The law is failing to protect us

Dangerous men need separating from society

Artillery Row

Joshua Carney, a 28-year-old Welshman, had been released from prison five days before he knocked at the Cardiff home of a mum and her 14-year-old daughter. Forcing his way inside, Carney locked the door behind himself and began to punch the mother.

The teenager, who had been sleeping upstairs, called the police — but Carney continued. He threatened to kill the screaming mother if she was not quiet, and proceeded to orally rape her three times — the last being in front of her own daughter. He then raped the teenager in front of her mum, who, Wales Online reports, “held on to her daughter’s hand trying to reassure her and comfort her as the attack took place”.

Why was Joshua Carney on the streets at all?

Joshua Carney has been sentenced to life in prison — life, that is, with a minimum of 10 years.

Let me repeat that: this man, who violently raped two people, one of whom was an underage girl, could be on the streets by 2032. Yes, 10 years is the minimum sentence. He might serve many more. But there is at least a chance that an able-bodied 38-year-old Joshua Carney will be unloosed onto the public in ten years time.

Why should any woman face the risk of being confronted by this asshole? How can his interests supersede those of the innocent people in his path? To be sure, he was high on spice — a substance containing synthetic cannabinoids — when he attacked the woman and the girl. But a man who was capable of locking the door and threatening his victims when they cried out was not a man who was incapable of grasping the implications of his behaviour. 

He should not step foot outside of prison whilst he is still capable of doing harm. Should he have a Damascene conversion and embrace the transformative power of belief then, well — he can look forward to freedom in the afterlife. We should not gamble the safety of women on his being sincere.

Why was Joshua Carney on the streets at all? He had been sentenced to eight years in prison in 2018 but had been released on licence after serving fewer than four. Carney had been sentenced following nine burglary convictions — not an isolated act or two of impoverished desperation, in other words, in which case one could appreciate that a shorter sentence would be justifiable, but a dedicated crime spree. Over the course of his relatively young life, he had somehow amassed 27 convictions for 47 offences. Granted, none of them were as serious as his assaults of the woman and her daughter. But was there any reason to suspect that he had turned his life around? Was anyone convinced that within two World Cups, a career criminal had been reformed?

Granted, I do not think prison tends to be all that effective at reforming criminals. Nor, indeed, do I think it tends to be all that effective at deterring crime. Much of Britain’s problems with law and order can be blamed on inadequate policing rather than inadequate sentences. More proactive policing — or what the blogger Anonymous Mugwump simply calls “police officers patrolling, or being visible, in high crime areas” — would make a big difference.

But a hardened minority of criminals would remain. Relatively few antisocial individuals can and do make a big difference to the overall health of communities. Imprisoning dangerous and prolific criminals is less a matter of improving them, or even punishing them, but separating them from the rest of us. This is not a matter of rehabilitation or deterrence as much as incapacitation. 

We cannot blame lawyers or judges for this situation

In another of his excellent reviews of the literature, Anonymous Mugwump concludes, “Taking people out of action, particularly during their younger years, so they are incapable of inflicting harm on communities is where we should focus our attention.” 

Of course, even most hardened criminals are not Joshua Carney. We cannot keep the most prolific burglars in prison for decades at a time. But young people — due to biological and social reasons — are likelier to be criminals. Some mature. Gangs are broken up. Neighbourhoods change. That is not always the case. Some amount of heinous crime is inevitable. Carney might have been just as dangerous after eight years as after four. But there was no harm in trying.

One criticism of an emphasis on incapacitation is that in focusing on dangerousness it loses sight of justice. That could be a valid argument in some cases. When it comes to a man like Joshua Carney, though, one suspects that real justice would involve actions we rightly think should be denied to fallible, corruptible human institutions. Certainly, no one could call it just, never mind sensible, if he were allowed onto the streets a mere decade after terrorising and traumatising his victims.

We cannot blame lawyers or judges for this situation. Sure, it is annoying when certain representatives of their professions argue that appropriate adherence to bad guidelines is appropriate adherence to guidelines (that’s the problem) but they don’t make the laws. Nor, one can add, do they control funding for the police or the criminal justice system. The government takes the blame.

Oh, and just to rub it in: Wales Online reports that the victims — who had to move house, who are afraid to leave their home and who are afraid in their home — are “currently on a waiting list for counselling”. On the waiting list? What do you have to suffer to get to the front of that? It is difficult to believe that the length of the sentence helped their peace of mind.

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