Can you go to Jail for Stealing Pork Scratchings?
On the face of things, this would seem like a total wind-up. But maybe not. The punishment does not always fit the crime!
A Brief History of Crimes & Punishments
In the UK, between the 17th and early 19th century, Britain’s ‘Bloody Code’ made more than 200 crimes punishable by death. The lawmakers believed that if the punishment was death, then the crime rates would be lower. But sadly due to the triviality of some of the crimes, people were executed for crimes that today we would see almost as non-crimes.
In the 1800s you could be hanged for:
- cutting down trees
- stealing horses or sheep
- destroying turnpike roads
- stealing from a rabbit warren
- pickpocketing goods worth a shilling (roughly £30 today)
- being out at night with a blackened face
- being an unmarried mother concealing a stillborn child
- stealing from a shipwreck
- wrecking a fishpond
But why do people commit crimes?
A few types of people commit crimes, the ignorant, the desperate, the greedy, those of diminished responsibility. I’m no expert on this, this is just what I think.
Some people are not aware that what they are doing is actually a crime. Sadly ignorance of the law is no defence. A little sprinkling of ‘right and wrong‘ dusted over a child is usually enough for future adults to avoid falling foul of this predicament.
If people are desperate in some way, you can understand why they may commit a crime. This has applied for years and still applies today. Put yourself in their shoes, for example, if you were starving, you may have stolen a rabbit. You could have starved to death without the food. You might not even get caught for the crime. Therefore, this could seem like a risk worth taking. And, if you did it once and got away with it, you might try to get away with it again? The psychology of crime is a complex thing.
But sentencing someone to death for stealing a rabbit is a clear example of how the lawmakers of the time had no real idea of the psychology behind some of these crimes. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Today, because we want to catch the criminal and not the needy, the UK has a welfare state, that provides support for those in need. Hopefully, those in the most need are supported by the state. Thankfully, stealing a rabbit is no longer a crime punishable by death.
The greedy, these are the real arseholes in society. People unwilling to put in a hard day’s graft for a days pay. Those who believe that they deserve more than their talents can supply. These are the real criminals in society and should be punished accordingly.
Breaking the law is easy, It must be, because idiots do it all the time. We could all do it if we wanted to, but we don’t. It’s not ethical, fair or right. Crime for the sake of your own greed is like cheating. It’s a lazy short cut taken by those with an inflated sense of their own worth in society.
Those with Diminished Responsibility.
People with mental health problems can be ignored from this article. Society needs to help those in need, any need, whether it’s financial or psychological, society must help. There are plenty of people with more than they need, these people can easily help people less fortunate, with little or no effect on their lifestyles.
The Sentence is not the Deterrent
Whether it’s the death penalty for stealing a rabbit, or today 10 years in jail for carrying a knife, I wonder how long will it be before the lawmakers realise that the sentence is not a deterrent? Surely the deterrent is actually the likelihood of getting caught?
The short-sightedness of any short term UK government means that if you can spend less today, it doesn’t matter if it costs more in the long run. Increasing the sentence for a crime is just a lazy way of deferring the problem. If your solution is an increase in the sentence, this may save money on police staff today, but cost the country more to keep the criminal in jail for extra years (way after you, the politician, has been voted out of office). This doesn’t matter to the politician because it’s a problem for the future and not today.
Most criminals don’t expect to get caught, so the sentence is moot.
To illustrate my point, look at the following scenarios:
- People park on a double yellow line because they know that they are unlikely to get caught. A £50 fine seems like a lot for parking somewhere you shouldn’t. But it costs nothing if there’s little chance of getting caught. So, it doesn’t really matter what the fine is.
- People ALWAYS slow down when speeding if they see a speed camera. The camera flashes every speeder. People know they are likely to get caught. The fine is similar to a parking fine. It always costs something if there a 100% chance of getting caught. Once again, it doesn’t really matter what the fine is.
Therefore the likelihood of getting caught IS the deterrent.
We can ignore crimes of passion, as these are not rational. The person who commits these crimes is not thinking straight. They are not thinking further ahead than the situation that’s right in front of them. So, there is no deterrent for these types of crimes.
So, in 2020, Can you go to Jail for Stealing Pork Scratchings?
Back to the question at the top of this article… Can you go to jail for stealing pork scratchings? No, of course not. But, yes if the circumstances are very specific. Like in this case.
The man was arrested for stealing a 49p bag of pork scratchings. Michael Phearse McCann took the snack and ate the scratchings as he walked around the shop.
Once caught, his theft activated a suspended prison sentence imposed only four days earlier. He was now in breach of an anti-social behaviour order. He ended up being sent to prison for 112 days.
It’s lucky times have changed, 200 years ago, he may have found himself at the end of a rope that was just a bit too short to reach the ground!