ColumnistsVogue Williams

Vogue: The American justice system is too harsh on young offenders

Vogue was getting in the Christmas spirit in Arnott's this week
Vogue was getting in the Christmas spirit in Arnott's this week

My show Wild Girls aired on RTE 2 on Tuesday. It was all about the American prison system and some of the women languishing on death row over there.

We are always talking about our own justice system and whether sentences are tough enough. But in the U.S. it is another extreme.

I watched a video on Facebook about Otis Johnson, who was released back into society after serving 44 years for attempted murder.

It was an assault charge – but on a police officer. Now, I in no way condone any crime or violence, and I truly believe that everyone should have to pay a price if they commit a crime – but the price paid in America was mind-blowing to me. 

It made me wonder when I met all of these convicted felons and listened to their crimes, just what is the real reason they are given such massive sentences? 

One man I met was 32 years old and had just been released from prison after 20 years. He was sent to prison at the age of 12, which to me is still a child, for stealing a car. 

Snatching a child’s life like that for a stupid mistake is completely wrong.

It seems that there is a lot of people in America making a lot of money from people being in prison. The more people they have in prison the more money they make; it was all starting to make sense. 

Advocates of this zero-tolerance approach say that they had to have massive crackdown because youth crimes had risen quite a lot and they believe in a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ philosophy.

After speaking to these people directly, I feel it’s just excessive. The value for human life seems to be low over there, but it doesn’t value life to take someone’s entire future away for stealing a car. 

It also makes it incredibly difficult for these prisoners to cope with society when they are eventually released. Spending so much time behind bars means they have no real grasp on what life on the outside is like because it has changed so much. 

I did agree with parts of the system, but these were the parts that were being phased out because they were too costly. 

The bootcamp programmes made sense to me. It gave young offenders another chance and taught them values that they had not been taught at home.

I think Ireland would massively benefit from systems like this. Although it is costly, there are only four per cent of bootcampers re-offending, so in the long run, it is actually saving money.

The next instalment of Wild Girls is on Tuesday on RTE 2 and it’s funny and definitely insightful – I mean a show all about sex has to be!

I’m obsessed with Christmas! I was working for Arnotts on Tuesday – they had a Christmas Night In for all of their Wonder Card members and I was invited along to do a Christmas jewellery workshop with Irish stylist Lorna Weightman.

The Hallelujah Gospel Choir were singing Christmas carols, Irish celebrity chef Clodagh McKenna was giving Christmas cooking tips and there was a beauty master class with celebrity make-up artist Christine Lucignano.

My dress was from House of Dagmar and I themed it with a belt from Selected Femme.

Sticking to the festive theme, I did an event with Littlewoods Ireland this week, they set up a snow globe on South King Street for people to take pictures in.

They had carol singers too and it was nice to get into the Christmas spirit again. If I had it my way we would start Christmas in October!