Tuesday, 19 February 2013
Thoughts on last night's Black Mirror (contains spoilers)
Last night's Black Mirror was all about punishment and revenge, and how the desire for punishment can obscure the delivery of justice. My views on prison: The idea of the prison system being primarily used to punish someone only really benefits society if this results in the punished person being able to be set free and remain law abiding. Otherwise, all that will happen is that people feel happy that a criminal has been punished. If punishment does not deter them from offending however, then it is pointless. It does seem to me that prisons have three possible purposes: to discourage criminals from reoffending and thereby possibly ending up in prison again, to rehabilitate criminals to open up other options that reoffending again and to keep criminals away from the public to prevent them offending from a certain period. I would argue that prison is currently failing to rehabilitate and it is debatable whether it offers a punishment deterrent. The only purpose it can currently offer is to keep people from offending from a certain amount of time - and this is not a bad thing in many cases, although it does raise the questions whether many criminals (e.g. paedophiles, rapists) should ever be released or whether they should be held in a separate detention institution for life where they do not need to be segregated from transient criminals. More needs to be done to ensure that prison rehabilitates and deters via punishment a majority of prisoners. We need a prison system where prisoners do not want to go back to again but where they are also given the tools to avoid needing to go back to prison again. There is no point having punishment for the sake of it. And this is where Black Mirror comes in. There is nothing socially useful (aside from job creation and economic stimulation) about Victoria's punishment. She is presumably in White Bear Justice Park for ever, and it would keep society safe if she was never let out for her horrific crime. Being imprisoned for life for such a crime would be deterrent enough for anything thinking of doing the same. Victoria's punishment is therefore done just to sate the public's thirst for punishment. The thirst for punishment would be more than understandable for the family of the murdered child, but not for random members of the public. Added to this, every morning when she wakes up she has no memory of the crime. As far as she knows, she has never murdered anyone (and does she have any further desires to commit murder?) One wonders if instead the device that wipes her memory could be used to wipe the desires to help murder a child. Instead, she is used as a theme park attraction and tricked every day into believing she is being hunted, before being told the truth by a smug host in front of a smug audience addicted to technology. This is not justice. As Charlie Brooker points out so well, punishment for punishment's sake does nothing more than provide a thrill for the public. What matters is reducing crime and deterring criminals, and in the world that last night's Black Mirror was set in this has been set aside in favour of entertainment. I thought it showed how the Daily Mail mentality of lock them up and give them bread and water isn't always effective. When it comes to fighting crime some of my views (e.g. better funded police forces, increase in armed police in cities experiencing regular gun crime, a thirty year minimum sentences for rapes) may be somewhat conservative and others (access to education and work experience for every prisoner and rethinking the failed war on drugs) may be somewhat liberal, but what is important to me is not whether a strategy is liberal or conservative, but whether it is effective). Black Mirror is a fantastic programme and I hope Channel Four commission a third series.