Despite a slew of articles reporting the return to prison of Jon Venables, very few articles tackle the attendant question of the rehabilitation of offenders.
Alan Travis, writing in the Guardian, claims that the re-imprisonment of Venables represents a “setback for the cause of prison reform and rehabilitation”. For such a high-profile recipient of what must surely be some of the best therapeutic help and assistance available to be recalled to prison could pose a damning failure.
Erwin James, also writing in the Guardian, claims the public “shouldn’t be surprised by the Bulger killer’s return to jail”. This is not a hysterical appraisal of the enduring nature of evil; rather, James is asking a deeper question about our attitudes to punishment and rehabilitation.
James highlights society’s desire to see prisoners suffer. It is a conundrum – we expect released prisoners to reintegrate successfully, yet are unwilling to commit to rehabilitation for fears it provides a ‘soft option’. How do we reconcile this conflict? In order to actually commit to rehabilitation for all, in the hopes of aiding reintegration and reducing reoffending, James states that “we would have to make changes so radical and so politically precarious” that he doubts any British government would ever have the stomach for it.
Both articles make much of the public outpouring of hatred experienced in the case, the familiar brandishing of unhelpful terms such as ‘evil’ and ‘monster’. Can we expect young and damaged individuals to successfully rehabilitate in a culture so seemingly predisposed to resist?