Thursday, 15 May 2014

Meadowcroft on crime

The previous post deals with the folly of the Tory policy of mandatory prison sentences for  the second offence of carnying a knife.  On a broader front my friend Michael Meadowcroft has written to the Yorkshire Post outlining wider criticisms of right wing "get tough" policies.

                                                                                                                               10th May 2014
Dear Sir

Grant Woodward’s article (Get-tough over sentences won’t stop scepticism, May 8) is yet another repetition of the standard fallacies associated with crime and deterrence.

No-one doubts that there are heinous crimes that require severe punishment but this really should not be confused with effective combating of future crime nor of prevention of re-offending. The victims of violent crime and their families are, of course, entitled to see the perpetrators punished but it is the responsibility of the justice system, and of politicians, sensitively to explain to them the reality of what works and what does not work.

First, it is the likelihood of getting caught that is a deterrent not the severity of the sentence. Take burglary- which I am familiar with, having suffered fifteen of them - if we only convict 13% of the burglars, the odds of 15 to 2 are excellent and they will carry on, whatever the penalty. But if we caught 80% it would not be worthwhile, even with minimal penalties. The proof of this lies with motor offences. Why are all driving more slowly? Because penalties for speeding have soared? Not at all - it is simply because the advent of the dreaded speed cameras have vastly increased the likelihood of being caught.

Second, it is simply not the case that all murderers are dangerous. Many commit the crime in domestic circumstances that are highly unlikely ever to recur. A murder case I was personally closely involved with some years ago was one such. The otherwise respectable young man from a stable and loving family committed an appalling murder - a crime of passion - and was duly convicted. It was accepted by the prosecution and by the justice system that he was in no way dangerous but the mandatory life sentence meant that over ten years of his life was wasted in prison. It is also salutary to realise juries will not convict someone  who has committed the manifest “mercy killing” of a terminally ill relative if they believe that they would go to prison.

Third, prison is not an effective means of preventing re-offending for the vast majority of cases. The prisons are now so overcrowded that the prison service is unable to do the rehabilitation work it very much wants to do. There are still a few specialist units that achieve significant results, at a high cost, but these are increasingly rare. So we lock more men and women up at an immense cost and wait for them to come out and re-offend! We need many more probation officers, within the public service, in order to reduce their caseloads and to achieve the changes in behaviour that we all want.

So, please Mr Woodward, if you genuinely wish to reduce crime, look at the facts rather than the slogans and be brave enough to campaign for what works.

Yours faithfully

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