Saturday, January 31, 2009

beggar gets 18 months for stealing a loaf of bread

The news of a French beggar who has been handed an 18 month jail term for stealing a loaf of bread in Spain (Badalona), reminded me of a talk by Dr Judith Rowbotham given at a conference titled "Experiencing the Law. From Globalisation to Poverty: the implications of a credit crunch" at the IALS last month (December 2008). [What I am writing here is purely from memory (of her talk), so don´t quote me- or quote with a similar caveat :-) ]

Dr Rowbotham spoke about the criminal justice system in 1800´s England, and quite interestingly, told that petty crime (such as one could consider the crime above) then had been punished with only ever a limited period of jail time (say, 48rs, - though I´d have to check my notes for the specifics, she may have said 72 hrs) since (1) this was considered less disruptive to the community and family life of the person concerned, (2) the reputational damage suffered through incarceration would be contained, (3) the offender could return to work quickly (if they were employed) which would be less disruptive to his/her place of employ, (3) the shock value of incarceration and its consequent impact on the offender was found to occur within the first 48 hours of jail time anyway (so a longer stay did not foster a greater sense of remorse for what had been done).

Returning to the Spanish case, I wonder how it is that this person could not have been sentenced to doing some community service instead(?)