Keep 'em off the streets and behind bars: tough prison sentences mean a safer society
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Lock them up. That’s the way we’ve always dealt with offenders. Criminals deserve to be put away for their crimes. Prison works because it keeps those criminals out of circulation, and acts as society’s most effective deterrent. Rehabilitation is all well and good – but the fundamental purpose of prison is to protect the public, and to punish those who have done wrong.

That’s the argument of the bang ’em up brigade; but others say that there’s a better way. New prison models have emerged in several European countries that suggest it’s not incarceration alone that prisoners need – it’s treatment for drug, alcohol, social and mental health issues. Norway, for example, has a ratio of almost one prison worker per inmate to help them overcome these problems. This system isn’t simply humane, say its advocates, it’s good for society. In England and Wales, 47% of inmates reoffend within a year of leaving prison. In Norway, by contrast, only 20% do. Its prison system works because it treats inmates as human beings, not criminals. Isn’t it time that we did the same?

Proposing the motion in this debate were principal opinion columnist for The Sunday Times Dominic Lawson and former prison doctor and now Spectator columnist Theodore Dalrymple.

Opposing the motion were author and Guardian columnist Erwin James and Director General of the Norwegian Correctional Service Marianne Vollan.

The debate was chaired by broadcaster, journalist and former presenter of BBC Newsnight Jeremy Paxman.

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