Locked up in a Cabinet for years - it's criminal

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The Independent Online
A disturbing report has been published which seems to demonstrate that no useful purpose is served by locking people up in a small space for years on end and expecting their behaviour to be improved by it.

The report is based on the study of the case of a Mr Michael Howard, who has spent the past five to 10 years inside a small Cabinet in central London. When he was put inside he was an obscure lawyer who seemed normal and harmed nobody except those with whom he came in regular contact. Now he is not only a potential danger to most people in the country, but has become a persistent court offender, is subject to dangerous hallucinations and has developed strange behavioural patterns.

"It would be simplistic to argue that all this has been brought on simply by being inside this Cabinet," says the report. "However, it would probably also be completely accurate."

The main delusion from which Howard seems to suffer is a belief that locking people up is fun. He does not articulate it quite like this. What Mr Howard says is that locking people up is a way of preventing crime, and that the more people you lock up, the less crime there will be.

"We all know that locking people up actually creates more criminals," says the report. "Well, we all know this except Mr Howard. But Mr Howard has made arrangements for more and more places to be built where more and more people can be locked up. At the same time the crime figures have not gone down. A sane person might draw the conclusion that the policy is mistaken. However, Mr Howard's thought processes seem not to be what we normally think of as sane. One reason for thinking this is that he seems compulsively driven to lock up people who could not possibly be improved by being locked up."

By this the report seems to mean people who have failed to pay fines, many of whom have been locked up by Mr Howard. The reason that people cannot pay fines is that they have not got the money. The reason they have not got the money is that they are poor. Many of the poorest people in society are young single mothers. Therefore Mr Howard takes a lot of young mothers away from their children and locks them up to teach them to pay fines.

"A sane person would not view this as a logical policy from any angle," says the report. "It may be that he actually derives some strange sort of pleasure from locking people up but this was outside our remit. What is undeniable is that being confined to a Cabinet has caused a significant deterioration in the behaviour of the subject, a change of which he has no awareness."

Part of the reason for his unwitting change seems to be that when you are confined to a Cabinet like Mr Howard you are surrounded by members of a peer group who suffer from the same deficiencies.

"It is not easy to generalise," says the report. But then it goes on to say, "Sorry, that's wrong. It IS easy to generalise, and one thing we can say is that almost everyone in such a Cabinet is subject to driving ambition, ruthless opportunism, dishonesty in spreading rumours about colleagues or leaking documents, an inability to distinguish the truth and an increasing reluctance to admit the truth to the public. It is sometimes said that the best way to promote crime is to lock up criminals in the same place together, for as long as possible, and the same is certainly true of politicians."

Mr Howard's behaviour has certainly not improved during his sojourn in the Cabinet. Before he went in, he had never been in trouble with the law. However, the longer he has stayed in this Cabinet, the more he has been in trouble with courts who have repeatedly condemned him for law- breaking. He has shown no remorse, no awareness of wrongdoing - indeed, he has tended to brag about it as if it makes him appear more macho. He has gone in front of large crowds and gloried in it. He has recently even acquired the delusion that he might be the next leader of the Tory party. He suffers, in brief, from that rare disorder: an excess of self- esteem.

"Power, fame and media exposure are powerful drugs," says the report. "They circulate freely in this Cabinet, despite denials. They cause unusual behaviour patterns. We do not blame Mr Howard for his present condition. This is no time to apportion blame. All we ask is that Mr Howard be taken out of the Cabinet where he has been for far too long and returned to the community. It may still not be too late for him to be useful to society."

If you wish to know more about this distressing case, please write (c/o me) to the Penal League for Howard Reform.