Letter: Bulger killers

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Your leading article "The Chief Inspector of Prisons must be heard on the Bulger case" (30 October) was absolutely right in the wording of the title but a little less than fair, in places, thereafter.

The standard work on the subject, Prison Law by Professor Steven Livingstone, says the Chief Inspector is "required in particular to report on prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners". What Sir David Ramsbotham has done is to draw attention to the fact that the two youths sentenced for the murder of James Bulger are now approaching the age at which they will be transferred into the prison system if they remain in custody beyond the tariff date set by the Lord Chief Justice, and that he would think it of no advantage to the public or the two youths to send them to some of the establishments he has inspected. As counsel regularly involved in judicial review cases affecting the Parole Board, and having thus from time to time to visit prisons, I support his view.

If one of the principal purposes of imprisoning convicted persons is reformation, then no reasonable person would wish them to be detained one day longer than the tariff period, if they are now reformed and can safely be let out on licence. As Sir David has said, if these youths have now benefited from the treatment and education they have had since conviction, then it might well be against the public interest to place them in any penal institution that could have the effect of undoing all the good done to date.

The mother of James Bulger is bound to be distressed by the thought, but it would be wrong to judge the appropriate date for release on that basis. If justice requires the release of both or either youth then public clamour should not obstruct it.