Home Secretaries, meanwhile, of whatever political hue, rarely do anything but harm. You have to go back nearly 50 years for the only exception I can think of, Roy Jenkins.
It therefore comes as quite a surprise to find myself welcoming a proposal made by Home Secterary Theresa May.
According to the London Evening Standard, Ms May is going to introduce default sentences for convicted crime bosses who fail to pay back their illicit profits. Furthermore:
New legal agreements and closer cooperation will be sought with Spain and the United Arab Emirates — two countries in which £200 million of British criminal assets are estimated to be held. There will be similar deals with West African governments and other nations such as Pakistan.It is years ago now that I was outraged to discover that professional criminals have often been able to stash away the loot from their crimes and gain access to it once they are out of jail.
As I wrote nearly five years ago in Let Ronald Biggs die in jail,
My proposal is that professional gangsters should never be let out of jail until they have paid back everything they stole. They should certainly remain locked up until they have said where the loot is stashed and allowed the authorities to recoup it.There ought to be a new kind of sentence, such as "20 years (say) or until the amount stolen is fully paid back, whichever is the longer". Ms May's new proposal does not appear to go quite that far, but it is a step in the right direction.
What, I hear you ask, is a woolly old lefty liberal like me doing supporting heavier penalties, a stance generally regarded as "right-wing"?
The answer is that I draw a sharp distinction between professional criminals -- organised gangsters -- and the general run of casual or petty offenders who make up so much of the prison population. As the various prison reform groups having been pointing out for decades, many of these people are more inadequate than evil, and often simply mentally deficient. Arguably, little purpose is served by locking them up.
And, as I wrote in my earlier piece,
If society had its moral compass right, [hardcore professional criminals] would be more vilified even than paedophiles, rapists and random killers. Many of the latter, it can be argued, are sick. There is something wrong with them: they are psychopaths, or their brains don't work properly; they are mentally ill, whether temporarily or permanently.
No such defence is available to the professional criminal, who is perfectly sane, knows exactly what he is doing, and is motivated by sheer greed.I don't entertain much hope that these people can ever be reformed. They simply need locking away for as long as possible, and above all must not be permitted to benefit from their evil activities.