Last year my brand new bicycle, which I had been riding for just two or three weeks, was stolen from Strood railway station.
Much to my surprise British Transport Police took the matter seriously. My designated case officer kept me informed, and I was pleased when she phoned to tell me they had arrested someone who had subsequently been convicted and ordered to pay me £200 compensation. The money only covered 50% of the bike's value, but I was pleased that justice had been done.
Unsurprisingly the culprit decided that using what money he had to pay me was not one of his priorities. And, whilst being angry at the theft, I have long believed that we should seek to use the criminal justice system as a vehicle for rehabilitation rather than a means of revenge. I wasn't therefore going to bombard the police and the courts with angry demands for retribution.
This morning out of the blue I received a letter from HM Courts and Tribunals Service informing me that
Once police time, court time, transportation, security and legal aid costs are taken into account a single court appearance costs taxpayers around £3,700. And every additional week served in a Young Offenders' Institute adds an additional £1,100 to the bill. So if the court decides he deserves a further week in prison for failing to pay his £200 fine, the cost to the taxpayer would be almost £5,000.
And then (irony or ironies) the money he was originally ordered to pay as compensation would be "written off".
The next paragraph reads:
Well, I have thought long and hard about this, and I have decided to make a representation.
I have written to the court to say that I can see no advantage in extending his custodial sentence and suggesting instead that I would prefer him to write to me (via the HM Courts and Tribunals Service) to explain why he stole by bicycle, whether he considered the consequences, what he did with it and how he would feel if the theft had been from him or a member of his family. I have also suggested that his court appearance should be cancelled and the money saved should be given to one of the recognised drug rehabilitation charities who just might be able to use it to do some good for society.
I suspect many of you will think I have lost leave of my senses for taking such a liberal stance, but forcing people to consider the consequences of their actions is, I believe, far better than keeping them locked-up and further alienating them for any chance of rehabilitation.