Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Walked Free" Yet Again

Regular readers will know that I am routinely infuriated by the ubiquitous journalistic cliché "walked free from court". This phrase embodies so much that is wrong with unprofessional journalism. You could use it about someone who was acquitted, or bailed, or given a community penalty, but it is always used to suggest a let-off. PCr has linked in a comment to this report, which clearly implies that the judge hasn't done his job. But have another look. The judge deferred sentence because the reports he had seen suggested that this defendant might be benefiting from drug treatment. It is a no-brainer that a multiple offender with an addiction will carry on offending until the addiction is addressed, so the judge used his discretion to give the treatment a chance to work. What a deferred sentence says is, to paraphrase: "these are the court's expectations:- you will do a, you will not do b or c. You will not reoffend" Meet those expectations and you can expect a non-custodial sentence. Fail and in you go.
That may be walking free from court, for the moment at least, but given the awful problems of addiction, isn't it sometimes worth a try? Some succeed, many fail, but weaning someone off heroin will do more to protect the public than any shortish prison sentence.
And don't tell me that the answer is a long sentence - dream on, it won't happen in the next two decades. Treasury says no.

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