NOW IF I got nicked for some heinous crime - putting a cornflake packet in the recycling bin or some such atrocity - I very much doubt that the judge would let me stroll off with a smacked wrist just because I promised to check in to The Priory for a couple of weeks.

No, I'd be fined £1,000, have my passport confiscated and be ordered to canvass for NuLabour at the next election. In fact, I'd only escape jail because all the prisons would be full of snooping journalists while paedophiles gambolled merrily across our school playgrounds.

Yet as far as so-called celebrities are concerned, a quick dose of public self-flagellation is deemed to be sufficient to wash away all sins.

The nonentity that is Pete Doherty continually cons gullible magistrates that he's successfully undergoing treatment for drug addiction, only to be pictured a day later shooting up in a hotel room in Thailand.

Mel Gibson, who descended into a hilarious outbreak of drunken anti-Semitism (and actually advanced the theory that "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world") actually got it written into his sentence that he'd turn himself in to the shrinks and analysts.

Now we have the hideous pig-woman of Bermondsey legging it into therapy as a holier-than-thou, principle-wielding mob of Guardianistas runs down from the moral high ground to put a metaphoric brick through her window.

(Meanwhile that hard-faced harridan Jo, former member of SS Club 7, is too ill to be even driven to The Priory and is instead ensconced in a luxury hotel. Smart move. Oh, and Danielle's agents have called in the police claiming that their client was "misrepresented". What's the charge? Indecent exposure of an empty-headed Scouse slapper?) And have you seen the Priory prices? Two grand a night to be told that it's all because you fancy your mother? Madness. For that money I'd at least want Doctor Melfi from The Sopranos talking dirty to me.

* THIS PRISON overcrowding thingy is more serious than you think. Sitting in my local upmarket boozer the other day, all I could hear were failed shoplifters whining that they'd been denied three months at Her Majesty's Pleasure and instead had to stuff postcards through letterboxes on behalf of NuLabour before the next election.

The reason for their moaning is that prison is not just a cushy option for most scrotes (three meals a day, television in the cell, video games on tap, as many drugs as you can take) but it's also now a nice earner. No really, prison is now a viable career choice, certainly when compared to a hellhole of a call centre or eight hours a day flipping burgers.

Designing leaflets for charities while in the nick now brings in £5.35 an hour, equating to a salary of over £10,000 a year, plus free board and lodging (valued at £37,000 a year), plus tax credits of £1,300, plus the chance to share in an £8 million a year compensation kitty if Mr Mackay forgets to plump up your pillows one night - we're talking an MP's salary here.

Suddenly it makes a spot of burglary - or a brief career selling peerages - look like an attractive option, whatever the consequences.

* PERHAPS JADE wasn't racist after all. Perhaps she was just sick to death of having to deal with Indian call centres every time her mobile went on the blink.

Because it is frustrating. Whatever the language lessons, whatever the training in popular culture, you're never going to be able to have the same conversation with a bird in Delhi as you would with one in Durham. ("Hello, Sir. My name is Mavis, Sir. Did you watch Coronation Street tonight, Sir? Isn't that Cilla Battersby a foxy lady?") Even imagining that you're speaking to a semi-naked Shilpa Shetty doesn't help when you know, deep in your heart, that it's more likely to be one of the prospective brides from East Is East or Grandma Kumar from Goodness Gracious Me on the other end of the phone.

Now some of the companies who moved their call centres to the Indian sub-continent are having second thoughts. The only question is who's going to do the work in this country? The scrotes can't be bovvered because they're all out shoplifting with impunity. Oh, hang on, I've an idea. Why not base call centres in prisons?

* NANNY STATE update: Lunchtime kick-abouts in the playground of Burnham Grammar School, Buckinghamshire, have been banned in case someone gets hit by the ball.

Those of us who remember the 30-a-side contests on concrete with a tattered tennis ball will scratch our heads in wonderment. Presumably the kids will now just sit around and get fat.

Meanwhile, head teachers have been told that they cannot look inside children's lunch boxes in case they infringe their human rights. The "guidance", issued by the Department for Education and Skills, comes after a ten-year-old boy (probably a porker) was banned from his school's dining hall after a piece of illicit chocolate cake and contraband cheese biscuits were discovered in his lunch box.

I don't know about you, but in my day that would mean licence to import as many drugs and guns as the kindergarten tuck shop market would bear.