I've described before that it took a while to wrap my head around the idea of a suspended prison sentence - I really did not understand why someone who deserves prison shouldn't go to prison.
I learned though that it's in Society's best interest sometimes that people are punished in the community while they get cured of addiction or take care of their dependents.
So what happens when someone on a suspended sentence messes up again - straight forward, no ? They go to prison, right ?
Well actually, it's not totally inevitable. They may be doing well on the substance treatment program and their families may still not be able to survive without them. There is the option to simply add on some extra punishment and give them a last-last chance to sort themselves out.
I'm definitely not convinced about this one. I'm all for giving people a chance but when you've given someone a last chance and they don't take advantage of it then I think that prison is all you've got left. Otherwise what are the chances of anyone taking a suspended sentence seriously?
I had a chance to test this opinion recently - young man with a baby with his partner who also acts as father to her toddler. Was lucky to get a suspended sentence last time for multiple burglaries, now in front of us for trying the doors of parked cars at 3 a.m miles from his house.
Defence solicitor told us in some detail that his partner had a broken leg and she couldn't look after the children properly without him. The children may have to go into the care system for the duration of the father's sentence.
Sounds pretty grim, but its the defence's job to make it easy for us to keep their clients out of prison and they often lay it on thick. In reality a broken leg wouldn't stop me looking after my children and there are such things as grandparents and aunts and uncles.
So we sent him away - the family and friends didn't believe it at first and then were extremely cross. One of them even gave us a Nazi salute which I suppose we should have done something about.
This brought us to lunchtime - I walked the chairman out to his car in case they were waiting for us out the back and then went for to the sandwich shop.
I returned to find my fellow winger in tears "What have we done to those children !"
First time I've had to comfort a magistrate, but I managed it. Basically I pointed out that we've done nothing to these children - what kind of a father was he at 3 a.m in the town-centre knowing that he was risking jail? Our job is to enforce the law and the children will, one way or another, be taken care of.
That night I slept fine, by the way. It's not pleasant but someone has to make these hard decisions or else thieves will continue to thieve. And if that means some kids have to lose their criminal daddy for a few months then I'm afraid that's the way it has to be.