It has to be said I have very mixed feelings about vandalism. On the one hand I disapprove of destroying public or private property for one's personal amusement but on the other it can on occasion be quite funny. Nevertheless it is illegal so I accept that when little Toby of Whitecraigs finds himself before the beak for his 'ghetto' antics he's got to be punished.
However I was surprised to read in today's Herald that one Gary Shields of Crookston was sentenced to 28 months in prison for his artistic endevours. He'd have been better stabbing someone really. If ever there was an offence crying out for community service or a bit of electronic tagging and a stiff fine it's this one. Oh if only I were a beak I'd have had Gary and his chums in the 'Eazy Riders' crew shackled together scrubbing walls and dislodging chewing gum for a year. I'd have fined the lot of them five grand each on top of requiring them to repay the cost of clearing up the mess they've already made and ordered them to attend literacy classes -'Eazy' indeed! In my court the little buggers would also be tagged and given a curfew to prevent them operating undercover of darkness. Oh and if they're responsible for the graffiti art pictured beside the report in the paper I'd chuck in some compulsory art classes. Honestly it's woeful.
At no point would it have occurred to me to send young Gary to Barlinnie to share a sell with a fellow sentenced to 28 months for trafficking £130,000 worth of cannabis. It's particularly absurd in this case given that trainee structural engineer Gary is an otherwise respectable fellow who was about to be be sent to university by his employer before 28 months of morning shower nerves entered the picture.
I shall spare you all my full prison reform rant suffice to say I'm on the harsh but fair wing that gets drowned out between the stick pins in their eyes and feed them gruel and the teach them to paint cats and fluff up their pillows brigades. My main beef with unduly harsh sentences is that it's taking up a place that could go to a kiddie fiddler or a proper thug. It's not fair that these people who work so hard to cause misery and distress wherever they go should be deprived of a place in prison just because some spray painting amateur is cluttering up a cell. If we as a society stop rewarding effort and hard work we'll grind to a halt and as no-one else is prepared to speak for the hard working criminal outcast the burden has fallen on my shoulders.
My other concern is that putting folk in prison who shouldn't really be there adds weight to the argument that regimes should become softer. Indeed it was the harsh treatment received by many well educated conscientious objectors during the first world war that led to the relaxation of many unduly harsh rules -not that I'm placing Gary in such illustrious company. That was fine back then because the treatment of prisoners was utterly appalling, however we're starting from a much more relaxed position these days. Quite apart from anything else the opinions of prisoners on their treatment should be an irrelevance. Unless they are calling attention to serious abuse of their basic and I emphasise basic human rights I have little interest in how they think or feel about anything. It is far easier to dismiss the bleating of a murderer about prison, an otherwise respectable vandal commands a great deal more sympathy.
As a deterrent his sentence is useless because it's too atypical to have any real impact. Making it typical does not serve the interests of society in any way. In any case how many vandals are caught in the act -judging by the epidemic of bus shelter destruction in the east end I'd guess very few. As far as I can tell efforts to clean up the city are directed at easy targets -city centre office workers dropping fag ends whilst out for a fly fag and so on. The truth is Gary was very unfortunate to be caught.
I accept that for many people graffiti creates an intimidating atmosphere but the we cannot start handing out jail sentences on the basis of people's feelings. In any case if the public regularly saw offenders cleaning up they would draw comfort from the knowledge that something is being done. Gary's sentence is a waste of public money that will achieve little but give those with an understandable desire for vengeance a few seconds victory, until of course they turn the page of their paper and see someone out on parole to ease overcrowding on trial for rape.