Pakistan cricket November 11, 2011

Jail isn't the answer

The convictions of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir are no surprise, and their incarceration is nothing unexpected

Spot-fixing is already yesterday's news but let's not forget that three former international cricketers have been confined to English jails. The convictions of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir are no surprise, and their incarceration is nothing unexpected.

Many cricket fans and international cricketers believe the sentences to be appropriate, some wished for harsher punishment. Yet as much as the tainted trio deserve condemnation, fines, and lengthy bans from cricket-related activities, I worry about these sentences.

Prison is a place for criminals who are a danger to society or mastermind amoral crimes. Is it the right place for Amir, who Justice Cooke admitted was young, uneducated, coerced and threatened? He was caught in a sting. No bookmakers were defrauded, were they? Nobody's money lost except that belonging to the News of the World, whose own reputation is in the gutter.

English prisons are overcrowded. They are an unlikely place for rehabilitation, an education in criminality more usual. A custodial sentence is best avoided when it does not serve the better interests of society or the individual. What societal or individual benefit does the confinement of these cricketers serve?

While Messrs Butt, Asif, and Amir adapt to their new lives in prison, the Mr Bigs, the 'persons unknown' at the end of long distance telephone calls remain untraceable and untraced. It was possible to decipher every deleted text and message from the phones of our misguided cricketers but sleuths and software experts are unable to offer any clues about the mafia men of Mumbai, Karachi, and Dubai.

For a week I've tussled with the conclusion that jail isn't the answer when it comes to punishing these sportsmen, thinking it was a temporary sympathy that would abate. Instead, I'm even more persuaded that in this instance suspended sentences, fines, and bans from cricket would have been punishment many times over. A guilty verdict itself was utmost humiliation.

As much as I condemn his role in spot-fixing, Butt is right to appeal his sentence. Asif and Amir should follow suit. Even convicted criminals deserve justice that is appropriate.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

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