From the "You've Got to Be S#$&ing Me" Files

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Remember how, in the movie Brazil, the families of persons detained by the government were sent a bill for "information retrieval" (read: interrogation by torture)? Well, looks like someone in the British government has been watching too much Terry Gilliam:

WHAT do you give someone who?s been proved innocent after spending the best part of their life behind bars, wrongfully convicted of a crime they didn?t commit?
An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you?re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty?s Pleasure in British prisons.

On Tuesday, Blunkett will fight in the Royal Courts of Justice in London for the right to charge victims of miscarriages of justice more than ?3000 for every year they spent in jail while wrongly convicted. The logic is that the innocent man shouldn?t have been in prison eating free porridge and sleeping for nothing under regulation grey blankets.

Blunkett?s fight has been described as ?outrageous?, ?morally repugnant? and the ?sickest of sick jokes?, but his spokesmen in the Home Office say it?s a completely ?reasonable course of action? as the innocent men and women would have spent the money anyway on food and lodgings if they weren?t in prison. The government deems the claw-back ?Saved Living Expenses?.

All the more reason not to introduce the death penalty, I guess: You can't collect as much revenue just charging for the bullet. (via Jim Henley)

NEXT: Solar Circus

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  1. Here’s a deal: The British gov’t can charge them for food and lodging if they can charge the British gov’t for lost wages.

  2. Ahh yes, that vaunted Anglo-Saxon liberty at work once again. 🙂

  3. True, Jean Bart. Not like the good ol’ days – “? la laterne” and charge ’em for the rope.

  4. Robespierre,

    What rope? 🙂

  5. I think Mackay’s article is rather dishonest. The victims of miscarriages of justice aren’t getting a bill for their imprisonment — Blunkett is just trying to reduce the amount of compensation they get. Mackay tries to make it look like they are not getting compensation but just a bill.

  6. Stalin decreed a policy in the Soviet Union that families of those who were executed were sent a bill for the cost of the bullet. This practice continues in Red China to this day.

  7. Did this come from The Onion?

  8. Wow, when did the Onion change its name to the Sunday Herald?

  9. It might be reasonable if they also billed the guilty for “room & board”.

  10. He’s getting off lucky just having to pay the bill.

    Impersonating a convicted criminal should be an imprisonable offence.

  11. King Arthur says, “If she weighs more than a duck then she must be a witch.”

  12. Shultz,
    If she weighs less than a duck, she is a witch. Since a duck floats on water, only things lighter than a duck can float on water, like very small rocks. You are not wise in the ways of science.

  13. Blunkett is also an advocate of a British national identity card, fingerprinting every British subject, etc.

  14. I can imagine how very small rocks might be able to “float” by not breaking the surface tension, but how on earth is a witch supposed to accomplish that?

  15. http://bboard.scifi.com/bboard/browse.cgi/1/5/1957/39012

    According to the link above, she has to weigh THE SAME as a duck in order to be a witch.

    I had assumed that because the witch had to be burned no matter what, that she must have weighed MORE than a duck, but, apparently I’m wrong.

    I’m just not as wise as Arthur.

  16. Fair enough Shultz. Actually, the scale showed she weighed the same as a duck and so she was burned.

    Xlrg, the small rocks comment was from the same film and one of the suggestions of the villagers of other objects besides wood that float.

  17. Kwais-

    Even worse are the ones who get executed even though they were innocent. If they had impersonated a less serious criminal they could have eventually been released and gone back to paying taxes. But by impersonating a capital criminal they avoid ever again having to pay taxes!

    The electric chair is far too lenient for those free-loaders! 🙂

  18. What is the problem here? The person DIDN’T commit the crime, SHOULDN’T have been in jail, and DID get free room and board.

    What if someone confesses to, and gets himself convicted of, a crime he didn’t commit, in order to have place to stay and three squares? I guess that would alright too.

    Anyway, as pointed out above, the person does get compensated for lost wages. Which sucks, because that’s PUBLIC money paying for his PRIVATE misfortune. Assuming it was an honest mistake, why should my tax money give a windfall to some shmuck. Life is tough, you know?

    I suppose the logical conclucion of all this is that next these people will sue for “pain and suffering” or whatever some lawyer come up with, and get a zillion pounds of tax money.

  19. Fenamic Soml-

    First, he shouldn’t owe any money for a living arrangement that he was wrongly coerced into.

    Second, if somebody falsely confessed to a crime to get “free” room and board in a prison, then charge him with perjury and sentence him to, um, a fine I guess. Prison would just encourage him. But there’s no evidence that any of the people in this article gave false confessions to obtain free room and board. Besides, a lot of people who do give false confessions only confess because the cops are beating them.

    As to this being his “private” misfortune, the fact is that the gov’t’s own mistakes caused his misfortune. If I break something I owe the owner a replacement cost. If I harm somebody I owe him his medical expenses. If the gov’t imprisons somebody who was innocent, they owe him for the time that they stole from him.

    Now, you could make a good argument that the prosecutors, cops, judges, and/or other figures involved in the case should pay out of their own pockets instead of making the taxpayers pay. Fine. But the gov’t should definitely reimburse them one way or another.

  20. It seems like the next logical step is to send those found innocent a bill for legal expenses. After all, they’re the ones who waste everybody’s time by refusing to plead guilty.

    What worries me most is what this attitude tells us at a time when civil liberties are under attack to “fight terrorism”. The government isn’t just blind to the possibility of abuses of power. It doesn’t think they matter.

  21. Dear Jim, I did not say that it was OK. Whether the compensation was fair would require information that was deliberately and dishonestly omitted from the article. As for it being a precedent, I think this already is one.

  22. Hill was one of the Birmingham 6, convicted with trumped-up evidence of being an IRA bomber. He wasn’t banged up through an honest mistake of the court system, he was bloody-well framed! The sorry story, here:

    http://www.portia.org/chapter10/bmpub.html

    I hold no brief for Provos or any of the other dead-enders who still think bombing civilian targets is a fair tactic, but the British authorities grabbed the wrong guys and beat “confessions” out of them. Charging them bed and board just seems like HMG’s way of saying “we know you are guilty, and we’ll never let you forget it.”

    Now, will the beatings the other prisoners gave the 6 while in stir be charged for, as “physical therapy?”

    Kevin
    (who never, ever buys anything, no matter how cool, at Irish Fest if I notice that the vendor is Noraid.)

    L? Fh?ile P?draig Sona Daoibh
    (Happy St. Patrick’s Day)

  23. Ah, one of the “Lott can do no wrong” crowd chimes in. Those who haven’t been following the case lately might like to look at this collection of anonymous book reviews by Lott and ask themselves whether there is anything dishonest about Lott’s conduct there.

    Here’s the second paragraph of the article again, where the author says that they don’t get compensation, but instead get a bill:

    An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you?re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty?s Pleasure in British prisons.

    However, as far as I can tell, they don’t get a bill and they do get compensation. The writer of the article is well aware of this. He deliberately wrote something that was false. That is dishonest.

  24. Ah, one of the “Lott can do no wrong” crowd chimes in. Those who haven’t been following the case lately might like to look at this collection of anonymous book reviews by Lott and ask themselves whether there is anything dishonest about Lott’s conduct there.

    Here’s the second paragraph of the article again, where the author says that they don’t get compensation, but instead get a bill:

    An apology, maybe? Counselling? Champagne? Compensation? Well, if you?re David Blunkett, the Labour Home Secretary, the choice is simple: you give them a big, fat bill for the cost of board and lodgings for the time they spent freeloading at Her Majesty?s Pleasure in British prisons.

    However, as far as I can tell, they don’t get a bill and they do get compensation. The writer of the article is well aware of this. He deliberately wrote something that was false. That is dishonest.

  25. I think Tim Lambert has a point here.
    The original article at whiterose ( and yes I did make this point in the comments there ) seems to indicate that a convict, on being found innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, is now required to pay ? 3,000 a year for food and lodging while in prison.
    This is absolutely not the case.
    Upon the overturn of the conviction, compensation is paid. As the Sunday Herald piece points out, ? 960,000 of it to Hill.
    In calculating that compensation a number of things are taken into account ( just as with insurance payouts for negligent deaths etc ). Previous earnings, time served, etc etc. So also are those monies that the person has not had to pay out.
    That is what this case is about : should compensation be reduced by what that person has not had to pay out ?
    I happen to think not, at least not in the case of bed and board. But that does not stop me from thinking that it is at least a legitimate question to ask.
    I ama great deal more enraged by the interest calculation. Instead of Hill paying 23 % interest on his advances, the Govt should be paying him interest on the full ? 960,000 that it has taken them 14 years to sort out.
    Of course, that may already be in the calculation, as the Herald doesn’t give us the full numbers.

  26. Thank God Bush doesn’t read the newspapers! Otherwise this would be started here as another ‘get tough on crime, even when the person is innocent’ GOP meme.

  27. First, he shouldn’t owe any money for a living arrangement that he was wrongly coerced into.

    Not only that, but presumably the amount that has been awarded as compensation was arrived at through some deliberative process (whether it’s a formula encoded in legislation or awarded by a judge or jury on a case-by-case basis I don’t know); and presumably whoever was doing this deliberation was well aware that convicted criminals are not thrown into oubliettes and allowed to starve to death, but are in fact housed in jails (or gaols) at government expense. This expense was undoubtedly considered and either factored in to the compensation or deliberately rejected for good reasons.

    And if, by some chance, the legislators, judge, or jury who was setting this compensation were somehow completely unware of the existence of the prison system, then that would have been the correct time and place for the Home Office to say, “You know, we do give him three squares a day and that little mint on the pillow every night isn’t free!” Either they neglected to do this (in which case, tough titties), or they did do this and were turned down (tough titties again).

    For the Home Office to attempt to modify the payout after the deliberation process is completed is be the equivalent of an ordinary citizen being convicted of a crime, fined by the court, and then deciding to only pay 75% of the fine because they didn’t like the outcome.

  28. Nice, convincing rebuttal, Tim. Who knows? If you had posted it a third time, you might even have had me convinced.

    Read the whole article from top to bottom. To anyone who is actually trying to understand it, two things will become crystal clear:

    1. The British government has paid compensation for the wrongful imprisonment of certain inmates.
    2. It is now attempting to take some if that money back based on the frivolous argument that Julian summarized on this blog.

    Neither the portion I quoted nor the portion you quoted is inconsistent with either of these propositions, both of which are, AFAIK, true. If all you gleaned from the article was #2 but not #1, that means you were simply too lazy to read six whole paragraphs of the article before spouting off about it. That’s your fault, not Mackay’s.

  29. The fact is that the person is still being “charged” 3,000 pounds for a transaction he did not willfully choose to make.

  30. All this talk about the niggling accounting details is very interesting, but the fact of the matter is that:

    People who are wrongly imprisoned are deprived not only of their economic freedom, but all of their freedoms. They are locked up in a cell for years of their lives, unable to enjoy life.

    Treating all this as a simple financial transaction is ludicrous.

    I realize that ?960,000 is a lot of money (at today’s exchange rate, 1:1.813, it works out to $1,740,480). Over 18 years that’s about $97,000 per year.

    For 1998/1999, the average income in the UK was ?23,764 ($43,084). Let’s simply assume that remained the same, in adjusted dollars, throughout the prison term. So, the average guy in the UK made $775,512 over that period of time, which gives our wrongly imprisoned a gain of $964,968 (completely ignoring interest that could be paid, equity in a home purchased, etc.).

    Granted that’s not a bad chunk of change, but would YOU voluntarily trade eighteen years of your freedom, life, and everything they entail for

  31. Note that the second-to-last paragraph of my previous post should read:

    “Granted that’s not a bad chunk of change, but would YOU voluntarily trade eighteen years of your freedom, life, and everything they entail for less than $1,000,000?”

    The HTML filter here must have stripped out my “less than” symbol.

  32. Tim: between this exchange and your jihad on John Lott, you have a really annoying habit of overusing the word “dishonest.” Contrary to your comments, the fact that these charges are an offset against compensation paid to the wrongly convicted inmates was not “deliberately and dishonestly omitted from the article,” in fact it was not omitted at all. It’s right there, in the first example:

    It wasn?t until two years ago that Hill was finally awarded ?960,000 in compensation. However, during the years since his release, while waiting for the pay-out, the government had given him advances of around ?300,000. When his compensation came through, the ?300,000 was taken back along with interest on the interim payments charged at 23% ? that cost him a further ?70,000.

    I won’t take it upon myself to conjecture as to whether overlooked this paragraph you “deliberately and dishonestly,” “carelessly and stupidly,” or whether you manged to screw it up some other way. That’s for you to answer, not me. What I will say, though, is that ultimately this is a distinction without a difference. Whether a state merely charges an inmate for room and board, or whether it pretends to compensate an inmate for his wrongful imprisonment, and then takes it back under the guise of “saved living expenses,” the underlying issue is the same: the state is using a forced transaction as an excuse to charge an ex-inmate for the “value” of services that were essentially worthless to the inmate. I mean, seriously. If the British government had handed Paddy Hill a check for ?50,000 to spend on food and lodging as he saw fit, does anyone really believe he might have used that money to rent a prison cell?

  33. The HTML filter here must have stripped out my “less than” symbol.

    To avoid that, type &lt; instead – it should display as <.

  34. Alex and Xlrq-

    I concur. If the British gov’t wants to be compensated, it should have said during the deliberative process “OK, we did send him to a place where he’s surrounded by violent felons and at constant risk of rape and beatings. And we took away his freedom to earn a living, enjoy the company of friends and family, travel where he wants, spend money, etc. etc. etc. But hey, we paid for his food, so shouldn’t we get credit for that?”

  35. Re Alex, XRLQ and thoreau.
    That is in fact what the case is about. Is it legal for the Govt,when deliberating about the level of compensation to be paid, to factor in food and board. Yes or no ?
    It is not about the compensation being agreed, and then trying to claw it back. It is not about a bill being sent after the compensation cheque.
    It is, here is the formula for deciding compensation. Should bed and board be part of that formula ?
    Me ? I think it’s mean spirited, asinine and indefensible. But then it is the action of a bureaucracy, so why is anyone surprised ?
    It’s also important to note that this is not Blunkett ( or more importantly, the Department over which he rules ) attempting to impose some new rule. It is the victim appealing against a pre existing rule.

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