Saturday, 22 January 2011

Harsh Deterrents for Violent Crime Needed-Not Community Sentencing

The Con-Dem coalition's Justice secretary Ken Clarke has abandoned the traditional Conservative view that prison works in favour of adopting more community sentencing. Now, whilst it might not function effectively as a means of rehabilitation the one thing that it does ensure is that dangerous people are taken off the streets and away from the communities that they terrorise. Ken Clarke, of course, will not live in a neighbourhood blighted by crime and anti-social behaviour, so if his policy fails it will be a theoretical blunder for him, but a daily nightmare for the victims of crime who tend to live in working or middle class areas.

His emphasis on finding ways to rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism is to be welcomed, but it does not neccesarily follow through that the best way to do this is through non-custodial sentences. In fact, research from the Ministry of Justice shows that neither existing community sanctions or custodial sentences have much effect on persistent reoffenders. However, at least with a spell in prison there is one less criminal on the streets for a given time.

Many prisoners and ex-offenders say that they dont find prison that tough. I would argue, and it would be interesting to see what a criminologist thought,that this is a factor in the high rates of recidivism. Whilst I am not advocating a return to cruel, primitive, or inhumane prison conditions, at the same time it should not be viewed as an easy ride and particularly so for those whose crimes are of a violent or menacing nature. Whilst I would welcome any approach and support that will prevent young people from entering the revolving door of the penal system and rehabilitate offenders I believe that we need to have a harsh deterrent for violent crimes. Any effective justice system should firstly be concerned with protecting the innocent and vulnerable.
Then and only then can we can get around to talking about rehabilitation.

For those of you interested I have written a piece for the New Statesman out on Monday, 24th January on how the wrong kind of cuts and changes to the criminal justice system will affect vulnerable and innocent residents in Supported Housing projects.


jaljen said...

The first argument is for me the most persuasive and cannot be refuted.

Whilst in prison a person cannot commit a crime (except apparently using Class A drugs but, since such a person has not been in a position to steal/defraud etc. in pursuit of obtaining the drug, I am prepared to let this pass) against the general public.

This alone makes the custodial sentence worthwhile to me. We would almost undoubtedly be supporting such a person through the benefit system were he or she to be allowed to enjoy his or her freedom. So we can offset the costs of incarceration against the costs of welfare, criminal damage, police time etc etc.

I don't think the financial figures are prohibitive if you take the costs of maintaining the criminal in the community into account.

Lock the beggars up.

Daedalus said...

Harsh Deterrents for Violent Crime Needed-Not Community Sentencing.

Love your blog Winston, wish you did it more often. But I really dont understand your headline.


Anonymous said...

There is a simple solution to the problem of re-offending: Explicitly punish re-offending in the justice system. My proposal is this:

1. If you re-offend, then your original sentence did not work, so you must serve it again in full, in addition to the sentence for this crime. Habitual re-offenders would find their sentences getting exponentially longer.

2. Any balance over 5 years to be served in a prison outsourced to the lowest bidder. This could be in Russia, China or India.

3. 5 crime free years wipes the slate clean.

SadButMadLad said...

Prison should be hard but not torture. You don't want the prisonsers to end up nut cases from being locked up.

So they do need to be kept occupied during their incarceration. But no Sky TV and no playstations in their cells. Yes to communal games rooms and other methods of occupying their time. They should be encouraged to better themselves so that they can be useful to society when they leave. Education, finding what their interest is and encouraging that (eg. woodworking or art or whatever), or just sorting out the personal problems that led them to a life of crime even if that means giving them class A drugs to help them through the bad patches. It's not an easy simple answer as some politicians think and it's not helped when they listen to the general population rather than proper research.

Oswald Bastable said...

Hard labour- a deterrent for the idle and a lesson for others- how to get up each day and WORK for a living.

I see no reason that prison should be less arduous than life as an army recruit.

Refuse to work-a day of no working is a day of no eating!

Anonymous said...

Some time ago, when he was Justice Secretary, Jack Straw commissioned a report into "The Cost of Crime". The report's authors came to two conclusions.

Firstly, the cost to the state of even a petty criminal is about sixty thousand pounds a year. That's about double the cost of keeping them in prison.

Secondly, the vast majority of crime is committed by a core of about one hundred thousand persistent recidivists. To reduce crime significantly, you'd need to keep them in prison more or less permanently.

Cost wise, building an extra 20,000 prison places is a no brainer. But would we have the courage to adopt an American style "3 strikes" policy and send teenage drug addicts or muggers to prison for their whole lives?

WinstonSmith33 said...

@Anonymous above I dont agree with the 3 strikes rule and you are out. It all depends on the crime and on the age and record. I wouldnt adovcate sending a persistent shop lifter to a life of hard labour. However, certain crimes particularly that of a an unprovoked violent nature or intimidating vulnerable people and burglary need to be dealt with by being sent to prisons and the harshness of the prison you are sent to should match the crime.

Saltley said...

Poor George Orwell must be spinning in his grave after being associated with this right wing junkblog.

Your prejudice, elitism, hatred of the people you work with and simple minded right wing politics would have apalled Eric Blair.

That being said Orwell would never have forgiven you for your poor prose and weak, fatuous arguments.

The Road to Wigan Pier, Homage to Catalonia, Down and Out...see what I mean.

Truly shameful you should be associated with Orwell.

Anonymous said...

What we find in the USA is that longer sentences work. The 3 strikes system is actually effective in keeping repeat offenders locked up longer. Those are your career criminals who simply won't stop unless they are imprisoned. As they reach age 50 they start to calm down and don't tend to re-offend when released. It is sad, but true. I asked some of them once why they keep offending and to be honest. They said it was easier then working and they had no intention of stopping. The only solution is to lock them up until they are too old to commit crime. So that needs to be aimed at the committed criminals. Make it 4 strikes if you want, but get them off the street.

Oswald Bastable said...

Saltley- the above poster is the classic example of why this problem exists.

They enable it.

You can be damned sure the like of that are well-insulated from the affects of the lower classes.

WinstonSmith33 said...


If there was an Orwell Prize for self righteousness you would at the very least be shortlisted. Orwell wrote of your sanctimonious type in the second half of 'The Road to Wigan Pier.'

Where to start? Firstly, I am not a 'right winger' as you say. In fact, I am a social democrat with some Old Labour social values. I do not hate the people I work with but I find the behaviour and lifestyles of some contemptible and I make no apologies for that. I differentiate between the Underclass and the Working class and the former make the lives of the latter insufferable. Crime and anti-social behaviour is directed at the weak and vulnerable working classes by anti-social elements they live cheek by jowl with.

Yes, in some cases there are underlying circumstances that predisposes people to anti social behaviour but not all people from similar backgrounds live dysfunctional lifestyles therefore individuals have an element of choice in whether or not they choose to live chaotic lifestyles. The system I work in doesnt take this in to consideration enough.

RichieRich said...

Hi Winston

You write

I believe that we need to have a harsh deterrent for violent crimes.

In your "Fleeting moments of inspiration" post I asked

Do you believe that sanctions such as confiscating DVD players and computers are sufficient for e.g. a 15 or 16-year old who physically attacks a carer. This, after all, is an assault by someone well above the age of criminal responsibility?

You replied

With regards to taking away some 15/16 year olds entertainment gadgets as a form of punishment I think it would work a lot better than an ASBO or conviction for assault as some young people view this as a badge of honour as oppossed to something negative.

Whilst you may be right, I'm still struggling to really see this punishment as "harsh". Be interested to hear your thoughts.

mad albert said...

um, people in prisons do commit many tens of thousands of crimes. Try reading prisonerben's blog for a more nuanced and informed view, winston.

Hogdayafternoon said...

The penultimate punishment being the deprivation of ones liberty, presumes that the liberty of the subject in question is better than state incarceration. With many of the sad cases I saw, I seriously questioned that their own `liberty` was the better option, it often appearing to be incarceration by any other name.

Hogdayafternoon said...

"....there are underlying circumstances that predisposes people to anti social behaviour...."

which is why the term RE-habilitation is slightly at odds, when so many have not been habilitated in the first place.

ukFred said...

SadButMadLad and Oswald Bastaple have just about gotten it right between them.

Let sentences be for a set amount of standard working hours (BSI Work measurement and all that)so that a hard worker could get out in a shorter time than a slacker and let them be cumulative with a period offence-free wiping the slate clean.

Food could be simple, and cheap, but nutritious, and witheld for not working or restricted for not making the appropriate output unless a genuinely medically certified sickness is the cause.

TV in prison would be a priviledge that would need to be earned with extra work output just like having to pay more for a de-luxe room over a standard room in a hotel.

I would not go so far as one of my acquaintances who suggests that we could re-open the coal mines as new prisons, but a full economic cost/benefit analysis would give some certainty about the benefit or otherwise of building sufficient prison places.

The work need not be of the sewing mailbags type, but could also include such things as education so that people who go in functionally illiterate and /or innumerate may come out better able to cope with life in general.

However, I am given to understand that many in our prisons are in fact mentally ill and have committed offences because they have been unable to cope with life and such people need treatment for their mental illness first and foremost, so that has to be on hand too. Perhaps that could be paid for by the savings on the cable TV subscriptions.

Jackson said...

I think that for as long as people have lived in any kind of society they know what is right and wrong, religion and local superstition notwithstandng.

IOW sane people will allow a certain amount of psychosis to prevail for the purpose of local social cohesion, worship of deities etc, but will draw a line when people, including their own offspring are behaving in a way that is at odds with ordinary reality and common sense.

Big Cool Fish said...

The thing is that people see prison as a 'luxury' now and forget what its original purpose is- not to make your life a misery due to lack of luxuries, but lack of freedom.

Sure, they may get three square meal a day, but their freedom, their choice is no longer given to them.

However, making things such as TV a privilege would be a good idea, but that's not the point in it. And, of course, protecting the innocent as the Blog creator said quite rightly.

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Hard but Fair said...

I still say that a remote scottish island with a tent and a can of beans - suitably mined to prevent approach or escape after the third crime (of violence) is the answer. Drop em from a helicopter to get them there ! Give them the chance to establish and live in the sort of society they want to inflict upon eveyone else !

Rinzler said...

I really can't understand what the government see in community "punishment", believe me, the offenders do not see it as a punishment, they see it as a joke. The justice system as become a joke, but more on that another time. Prison not only works (albeit not in rehabilitative terms, but when did we start believing in that?) it also makes sense on so many levels that I would expect to see cynical careerist politicians literally salivating at the prospect of building and running more.

First of all, it makes economic sense based on the study mentioned above and research by civitas. Communtiy service is expensive, prison is cheap in terms of the savings made from crime prevention.

And not that I necessarily agree with private prisons, but the fact is if the government can't be bothered running this integral organ of a civilized society (anyone else have that feeling?) then there are private providers who would bite there hand off for the chance to do so.

And, not to sound cynical but it would make sense to do it now, in this economic climate, if only for the number of construction jobs it would create.

Anonymous said...

Is the time ripe yet, do you think, to bring back the concept of outlawry?

A person who demonstrates no respect for the rule of law has the protection of the law withdrawn from them.

Wikipedia has a good article on the history of this admittedly harsh sanction.