“The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of civilisation of any country – a constant heart searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes, and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if only you can find it, in the heart of every person – these are the symbols which in the treatment or crime and criminals mark and measure the stored up strength of a nation and are the sign and proof of living virtue in it.”
I’ve never really bought into the legend of Churchill as an idealised leader who could do no wrong. He did a lot of wrong in ways too numerous to mention here. But he did a lot of right too. The above quote shows a side to Churchill which I do admire. In many ways he was a forward thinker and his ability to stress the importance of punishment whilst also emphasising the duty of every person, including those punishers themselves, to have compassion and to rehabilitate was unrivalled in his time.
He was right: measured compassion is the virtue of civilised nations. But it is a virtue which I fear is close to death. It is true that as criminals we have neglected compassion ourselves but you cannot instil compassion in a person without showing them your compassion too.
Churchill’s belief that there is a treasure in the heart of every person is one I share. But many prisoners cannot see the treasure in even their own hearts. It is up to those of us that can see it to show it to those people and give them a positive sense of self-worth as a foundation to build upon. For those charged with the duty of punishment I would even go so far as to say that finding a prisoner’s inherent treasure, showing it to them, and helping them to cultivate it, is more than just a kindness or good practice; it is their duty.