IT IS a rare thing indeed to hear the judiciary praised in terms
more divine than human. In this country, it would be unthinkable to
imagine a judge's being described as having a hotline to God -
except in a deeply satirical sense. But such are the paeans
lavished on Judge Francis from Dallas, Texas: a Justice who,
dressed in jeans and cowboy boots, presides over an ex-offender
programme with wildly successful results.
There is nothing touchy-feely about Judge Francis: a gun-toting
Republican, he is one of a new breed of right-wingers in the United
States who have embraced the politics of rehabilitation for
ex-offenders - and the economics, as Danny Kruger discovered in
Republican Rehab? (Radio 4, Monday of last week).
This new breed has "done the math" - the figures are
much-quoted, and the predictions for the future growth of the US
prison population are truly staggering - and they have realised
that, from a purely financial perspective, the situation is
unsustainable. Thus was born the lobby Right on Crime, and it is
their recommendations on managing prisoner numbers which are
credited with reducing the prison population by ten per cent in
Naturally, some Democrats feel miffed that their liberal clothes
have been stolen; and it comes at a time when many Republicans are
also starting to argue against death row. It is one of the ironies
of the present situation in the US that prison numbers increased as
a result of Democrat policies on mandatory minimum sentencing,
forged directly to counter accusations of soft-pedalling.
But the person who might feel most aggrieved by this documentary
is Kenneth Clarke, whose name was never mentioned when the
discussion moved to the UK and whether rehabilitation might work
over here. Instead, Mr Kruger turned to his old chum David Davis to
imagine the apparently unimaginable: a Home Secretary who does not
just lock doors and swallow keys.
If, after that, your moral and political compass is spinning,
then I am afraid the next item will not help. Decameron
Nights (Radio 3) is bringing us a daily serialisation of one
of the most bawdy and irreverent works in the Western literary
canon. Boccaccio's sequence of 100 tales contains the saucy, the
sacrilegious, and the cynical, a body of stories that furnished
inspiration to dozens of later authors, not least Chaucer.
These little plays are neatly packaged and deftly presented -
though it is fair to say that Boccaccio has about the same
sensitivity to gender politics as the average seaside postcard.
Even if there are no morals here, the stories do manage to
deliver a closing moral of a kind. In particular, the story of
Ciappelletto has more than enough to fill a decent sermon: a
Florentine Tony Soprano on his death bed dupes the priest into
thinking that he has lived a blameless life. The priest, painfully
aware of the corruption around him, and keen to rise above it, uses
the memory of the dead thug to chastise his peers. And so another
delinquent finds his resting place within the walls of an