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PETER HITCHENS: A terrible tragedy is coming to at least one of our major prisons

There will be blood, and smoke rising in columns over the centre of a major city, and helicopters, too, perhaps even soldiers. 

A terrible tragedy is coming to at least one of our major prisons, and only a complete reversal in our crazy liberal social experiment can prevent it.

As I have been arguing fruitlessly against that liberal experiment for more than 20 years, I see little chance that it will be avoided. 

A shocking report has revealed staff have lost control of prisoners in one of Britain’s biggest prisons in Birmingham. Pictured: Prisoners gleefully pose with guard’s helmets during a prison riot in 2016

Common sense has been banished from our country, but nobody connects this with its results.

The liberals themselves drivel that prisons are full because we send too many people to them. I will come to that in a moment. 

Others claim that the squalor, drugs and violence of the verminous Birmingham Prison, revealed last week, are the result of privatisation.

Well, I oppose private prisons because I do not think the punishment of wrongdoers is a business. It is the moral duty of the state. 

But it is not the issue here. It is easy to find state-run prisons that are just as bad as Birmingham.

The truth is astonishingly simple. In the 1960s, our ruling elite decided that they knew better than any generation before them. 

Hard-bought experience was ignored, and those who had that experience were pushed out.

At the core of the elite’s policy was a threefold mistake. 

They thought prevention of crime by a patrolling police force was too expensive and a waste of time, and sought to replace it with fire-brigade policing with lots of fast cars, radios, CCTV cameras and helicopters.

They thought that punishment was itself wrong. Crime was a social disease, explained by poverty or child abuse.

Prisons would no longer be charged with ‘the due punishment of responsible persons’. 

This was because people were no longer considered responsible for their own actions. 

Instead, in some mysterious way, never explained and never known to have happened in the history of the human race, they were to be ‘rehabilitated’. 

This is one of the best examples of the iron law that the longer a word is, the less it means.

They abandoned deterrence. 

This was because it meant they, our political leaders, had to take personal responsibility for harsh actions, so as to keep the people of Britain safe from harm. 

They lacked the fortitude and resolve to hang perhaps a dozen heinous murderers a year, claiming that they could not risk the (rare) death of an innocent person.

As a result, they hugely increased the readiness of criminals to carry and use lethal weapons, especially knives. 

Hundreds of innocent people have died or had their lives unalterably ruined as a result. 

It is interesting that the same sort of politicians have often been quite happy to rain missiles down on Belgrade, Baghdad, Tripoli, Mosul and Damascus, for supposedly ‘humanitarian’ aims. Funny old world.

In the 1960s, while wise voices warned that all this was folly, nobody could say for sure that the liberal reformers, led by the arrogant Roy Jenkins, were wrong. 

But more than 50 years afterwards, it is quite obvious that they were terribly mistaken.

In normal life, when an experiment fails, we learn from it. 

The prototype aircraft crashes. We go back to the drawing board. 

The experimental new drug makes the disease worse. We abandon it. 

Only in the fantasy world of British politics and media does nobody ever learn anything from experience. 

In Parliament and Whitehall, at the BBC and The Guardian, they refuse to understand that this mess is their fault.

They prefer to blame all our ills on Margaret Thatcher. Though she failed to put the crime crisis right, she didn’t cause it.

And so we continue to do the stupid things we have been doing for 50 years, somehow expecting that they will eventually work. 

As Albert Einstein said, this is the classic definition of madness.

Listen: in 1961, when England and Wales still had serious punitive prisons, we retained the death penalty for heinous murder, we had a patrolling police force and a population not much smaller than it is now, there were 27,000 people in prison. 

Now there are more than 80,000. But that is not a fair comparison.

Staff have been beaten up by marauding prisoners, guards hiding in offices and drugs are openly taken as ministers take back control of the prison

The prison was previously run by G4S

Lawless inmates during a riot inside the facility in 2016

If we had the laws and rules of 1961, and the crimes of today, we would probably need the entire Isle of Wight to house convicted prisoners. 

Instead, thousands of people who would have been doing proper porridge in 1961 roam free, frightening you and me, and not fearing authority. 

And because they don’t fear authority, nobody else does either, and the number of criminals grows far faster than we can build new jails.

In 1961, criminals were quite likely to end up in jail for a second offence, a fact which frightened many away from crime. 

Now, most criminals (except homicides, and a few other very violent offenders) do not even meet authority until they have committed dozens of unrecorded, undetected crimes in areas where the police rarely bother to go.

Even when they are detected, it can take years of empty cautions, unpaid fines, laughable community punishments, and suspended sentences that are never activated, before they are actually locked up.

By the time they get to prison, they have such total contempt for authority that the safest thing to do is to leave them alone, and turn a blind eye to their use of drugs, and let them out as fast as possible. So this is what we do.

Traditional prison officers, sniffing the wind, are leaving by the score because they see where this will end. 

Inexperienced recruits, hopelessly outnumbered by day and by night, can only make a pretence of being in charge. 

But because it is all behind high walls or fences, the truth gets out in brief flashes of publicity.

Well, that may soon change. 

But will the liberals ever admit they were wrong? Have you ever heard a liberal do that? 

No, when the flames flicker and the sirens blare, it will somehow turn out to be Maggie’s fault. You wait and see. 

Tories R Us – another big brand with no future 

Both the Labour and Tory parties remind me of troubled high street chains such as Woolworths or Toys R Us, which once seemed to dominate all, and then, in a matter of months, turned out to be empty shells, and vanished. 

They look more permanent than they are. Last year the Tories raised more money from dead people, in their wills, than from living ones, and are now being targeted by entryist fanatics. 

Labour must surely be on the edge of civil war. 

Both should have been replaced by serious parties long ago, but were propped up by billionaires.

Now, when they fall, what will arise in their place? I fear a British Trump.   

Crucial scenes we’ve wiped from history 

I am puzzled that we have done so little to mark the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia (as it then was) 50 years ago. 

The arrival of tanks in Prague was, and remains, one of the most poignant and shocking events of modern history, which I remember very well. 

Poignant: Protesters confront a Soviet tank in Prague in 1968

Poignant: Protesters confront a Soviet tank in Prague in 1968

To see the iron crudity of Soviet power crushing liberty in Europe’s loveliest city was especially painful. 

It was also, though we did not know it at the time, the beginning of the end of Soviet Communism – and the start of a new and far more dangerous version of Marxism, which got loose at the same time and now infects the once-free West.

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