Let’s not jail non-violent offenders
Last month, an Islamist inmate wielding a pair of scissors attacked and wounded three guards at a lock-up in northern France, says Matthieu Croissandeau, and as a result prison guards across France went on strike demanding reforms. They want there to be more guards, higher pay and the segregation of extremist prisoners. But while President Emmanuel Macron has now agreed to all their demands, it won’t solve the central prison problem: overcrowding. The number of prisoners has doubled in the past 40 years. And a sizeable minority are radical Islamists, “who feel they’ve nothing to lose” and so are far more likely to turn violent, and their malign influence on cellmates has contributed to an extraordinarily high rate of recidivism. But what if we followed the Netherlands and stopped jailing non-violent offenders altogether? The Dutch halved their jail population in just ten years by using “alternative criminal sanctions, ranging from fines to electronic bracelets and community work”. Offenders who avoid jail also avoid contact with Islamist inmates, breaking the cycle of prison radicalisation. If we really want to curb crime, that’s the direction we need to take.