Is it fair that a woman avoids a custodial sentence simply because she’s an exceptional student?

An Oxford University student who stabbed her boyfriend could be spared a custodial sentence because of her “extraordinary” talent, a court heard.  The aspiring heart surgeon called Lavinia Woodward stabbed her Cambridge-educated boyfriend, who she met on the Tinder dating app, in the leg before hurling a laptop, glass and a jam jar at him during a drug-fuelled rage at Christ Church college, Oxford. The 24-year-old admitted to a charge of unlawful wounding at Oxford Crown Court, and the offence which would normally carry a custodial sentence, might not result in prison because the  Judge Ian Pringle suggested she may be spared jail because of her academic record. 

He said: “It seems to me that if this was a one-off, a complete one-off, to prevent this extraordinary, able young lady from not following her long-held desire to enter the profession she wishes to, would be a sentence which would be too severe.”

Is this fair? Would the same mercy be given to another defendant with the aim of becoming a care assistant, or one who was a checkout assistant at Tesco with aspirations towards becoming a supervisor? The Daily Telegraph even questions whether there is an increase in the punishment by merit!

Francis FitzGibbon, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, told the BBC’s Today programme the case was “unusual”. “The judge must take into account determination or demonstration of steps to address addiction, so it sounds as though he’s giving her a chance and I think the judge would do that for anyone wherever they came from in the right circumstances. I don’t know if her future prospects are the critical factor in this. Maybe if she does really badly [on her drug rehabilitation] he’ll think again.”

Drug Policy Alliance in US argues why US Drug Policy All Wrong

In 1997 when US actress Rachael Leigh Cook was a box-office star someone thought it clever to summarise America’s drug problem with a frying pan and an egg. It was a cringeworthy Public Service Advert which a few weeks ago was rehashed as a Public Service Advert for the Drug Policy Alliance, again with actress Rachel Leigh Cook a frying pan and eggs, but pointing out how wrong the US’s current Drug Policy is.

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“It is gratifying and promising to see the evolution in Rachael Leigh Cook and in the American public over these last 20 years,” Tony Newman, director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance. “The war on drugs is a disastrous failure that has ruined millions of peoples’ lives, especially people of color. Let’s hope this ad is seen by as many people as the original and inspires folks to end this unwinnable war.”In the advert Rachel Leigh Cook holds a frying pan and eggs of two different colours to demonstrate the racial disparities in our criminal justice system when it comes to drug crimes.

“The war on drugs is ruining people’s lives,” Cook says. “It fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counterparts. It cripples communities. It costs billions and it doesn’t work. Any questions?”

For any Year 11 student revising about drugs for their GCSE RS exam watching the advert is worth 5 minutes of their time. There are often questions on the exam paper about how to punish people who take illegal drugs. Obviously we know how we can refer to religious attitudes (eye for an eye, the Golden Rule, love thy neighbour, forgiveness, situation ethics, Buddhist precept of no drugs or harm, karma, affecting your ability to follow religious teachings) and the aims of punishment (reform, deter, vindication for laws being in place, reparation, protection, retribution) but how drug policy can also affect generations of people and their efforts to get educated and pull themselves out of poverty should also be considered.

What’s it like in a Youth Offender Institute?

There are often newspaper exposes of how cushy it is in prison: drugs on tap, computer games… a bit like a luxury hotel. Well a court case agains the Ministry of Justice is shedding some light on what Feltham Youth Offender Institute is like for some of guests.

  • locked in his cell for 23 and a half hours a day and denied the education to which he is legally entitled
  • let out of his cell for only half an hour a day to make phonecalls, take a shower or be given medication.
  • not allowed into the gym
  • one-third of imprisoned children spent time in isolation

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Crime as Seen by a Photographer

Just over 2 minutes into this BBC art news report there is a section about Arthur Fellig’s photography of Depression era New York. Fellig’s photography created a debate many years ago in journalism which still continues to this day about where the limits lie in showing images of violence in the news.  Murder is my Business is the name of the exhibition.

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Arthur Fellig apparently earned the nickname Weegee during his early career as a freelance press photographer in New York City. His apparent sixth sense for crime often led him to a scene well ahead of the police. Observers likened this sense, actually derived from tuning his radio to the police frequency, to the Ouija board, the popular fortune-telling game. Spelling it phonetically, Fellig took Weegee as his professional name.

Watch TV to help your Crime and Punishment knowledge

My parents were strict on how much TV we could watch. This was pre-Internet days, so the biggest thing to pull us away from doing the homework, household chores, doing sport or practising the flute was TV.  Only being allowed to watch 30 minutes TV a day felt like torture so when I chose to do Media Studies GCSE the joy of being able to say “I’ve got to watch A, B and C for homework” was a welcome passport to TV heaven.

So what is out there in the realms of television that might help you relax from over zealous revision and increase your knowledge of crime and punishment at the same time?

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Up there as a number one priority for people trying to learn about crime and punishment has got to be Netflix’s Making a Murderer. Filmed over 10 years, the real-life thriller follows a DNA exoneree who, while exposing police corruption, becomes a suspect in a grisly new crime. It will have you gripped from start to finish.

The Independent lists an excellent collection of documentaries that those people suffering from the demise of Making a Murderer can turn to when wanted to continue following real life storylines about crime.

Focusing on the death penalty you might watch Redemption with Jamie Foxx playing Stanley Tookie Williams or Let Him Have It with a young Chris Eccleston playing Derek Bentley.

Or perhaps you’d prefer some fictional characters. Broadchurch has recently finished on Series 3 with its police investigations, causes of crime and court scenes. Whereas Line of Duty can offer police corruption with some intermittent court cases too.

Tariq Ramadan, Oxford academic, says Muslims should reform their minds

An extended interview in the Guardian with Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan provides fresh debate about the state of Islam and whether it should adapt to modern society.

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Ten Things You Thought You Knew about Islam is the catchy name of the appendix of Ramadan’s new books where he states his beliefs about Islam’s need to change…

Ramadan explains that Sharia is a guide to ethics, not simply a legal code. Corporal and capital punishments are the result of a “brutal and literalist” application of it and should be suspended. His approach to gay people seems to be love the sinner, hate the sin – a conservative one in the context of very recent progress in the west, but hardly incompatible with life here, as millions of traditional Christians demonstrate. Islam considers modest dress for men and women an obligation, although not an essential one. Ramadan wants Muslims, particularly western ones, to think of themselves as absolutely part of modern society, and to push it in the direction of human rights and equality of opportunity. He is clearly frustrated by the reduction of his faith into questions of hijab or homosexuality by non-Muslims.

Let’s just clarify what Sharia Law is. It comes from a combination of sources including the Qur’an (the Muslim holy book), the Hadith (sayings and conduct of the prophet Muhammad) and fatwas (the rulings of Islamic scholars). People often hear of the gory elements of Shar’iah when severe punishments like having your hand chopped off for stealing are spoken about. Students doing about crime and punishment for the RS GCSE will need to know something about Shar’iah.