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Criminals must fear the courts and the police

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BORIS Johnson recently pledged to recruit 20,000 extra police officers (1). This is a step in the right direction but we should have no illusions that this, by itself, will deter criminals. For the government to be serious about fighting crime, especially violent crime, it needs to do three things.

First, it must reverse the almost 20-year trend of fewer criminals brought to court each year to face prosecution. In 2001 the number of prosecutions represented 40 per cent of all police-recorded crimes. By 2017 this was 29 per cent (2). This is pivotal, because it means that the number of crimes that criminals are getting away with is increasing every year. This makes their criminality easier, safer and more rewarding. We should be undermining the criminal’s way of life, not rewarding it.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is largely responsible for this decline and therefore should be abolished. It closes thousands of files presented to it by the police every year. Brian Lawrence, an experienced court lawyer, made it known in his book They Call it Justice that the undeclared purpose of the CPS was, from its inception in the 1980s, to save money and prevent as many criminals as possible from being prosecuted (3). In one year alone, 1992, the CPS threw out no fewer 193,000 cases that the police brought forward for prosecution (4). In 2008 it was reported that of the 693,250 crimes the police had cleared up that year, the CPS intervened to drop or discontinue 287,250, i.e. 41 per cent of them (5).

The effect on police morale of these tactics can only be guessed at. A former police officer with 38 years’ service publicly declared that he despaired of the enormous number of criminals the CPS had allowed to escape any form of justice (6). In the five-year period 2014-2018, the CPS refused to prosecute 345,990 cases presented to it by the police (almost 70,000 per year), under the umbrella excuse that ‘it was not in the public interest to proceed’ (7).

The second thing the government should do is to drop the objective given to the police by Tony Blair to ‘cut crime’. This has encouraged institutionalised manipulation of the crime figures by the police, meaning millions of offences have not been recorded and or ignored. Parliament was shocked, or pretended to be, when in 2013 the House of Commons Public Administration Committee was presented with irrefutable evidence of these practices (8). But this was not the first time these matters had come to notice. The press had been reporting on the problem for years (9) and in 2003 a chief constable had described these procedures as ‘administrative corruption’ in his evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Committee (10).

We should have a Police Force, not a Police Service, and its job must be to deter crime by the energetic investigation, tracking and arresting of as many criminals as possible. Criminals should learn to fear the very sight of a policeman. The police must also record crime numbers accurately, so that the justice system can be properly held to account by the public, who currently are kept in the dark by the publication of obfuscated and sometimes fictitious criminal statistics (11). Keeping the public properly informed about crime numbers is an important part of the fight against lawlessness.

The third change is vital. It is that the government should ensure that sentencing becomes more severe, especially for violent crimes. As things stand, increasing police numbers will be a waste of time if large numbers of the criminals they arrest are not prosecuted, and those that are, receive pseudo-community punishments, or derisory prison sentences (given even for violent crimes). Few things can be so undermining for the police and the public than to see these violent offenders out on the street again after only a few months in jail (and sometimes less), exultant, fearless and undeterred. The average sentence length for all indictable (the most serious) offences is now just 20 months. For violent offences it is 23.7 months – less than two years (12). We must remember that this is the sentence given, not served. With the 50 per cent automatic remission, violent offenders spend on average less than 12 months in prison. Compared with their often brutal crimes, this is farcical.

The US has seen dramatic falls in its crime rates since the introduction of long and sometimes draconian sentences of imprisonment for a second or third conviction for a violent crime (13). California, for example, has halved its violent crime rate since it legislated for a three-strikes sentencing policy, leading to a fall in the demand for new prison places, which confounded its civil servants who thought the reverse would happen (14). Cities as far apart as Los Angeles and New York can claim that they are now much safer places to live in than they were in the late 1980s. Figures published in 2017 for New York showed that the numbers of homicides for that year were a sixth of what they were in the late 1980s (15).

Our government should find the courage to introduce similar policies. It should put aside its concern over accusations by criminal apologists that it would be ‘nasty’, ‘right wing’, ‘authoritarian’ if it radically increased the length of prison terms. Instead, it should demonstrate moral courage and put the safety of the public first, by taking notice of the evidence which shows this would be a sensible policy development. If it did, there would be no reason to believe we would not reap similar rewards as now enjoyed by the American public.

At the same time our government should accept the obvious that lenient sentencing practices have failed to deter crime. The consistently high reconviction rates of offenders on all types of supervision programmes (16), and the failure of all of its rehabilitation programmes (17), have demonstrated, over a period of more than 50 years, that offending is not an expression of a problem for which the offender needs help. If it were we would have solved the crime problem years ago.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that criminals should fear the police. Yes, but they must learn to be terrified by the courts.

References:

(1) https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/boris-johnson-police-officers-20000-pledge-target -crime-a9052401.html

(2) Ministry of Justice Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to June 2011

Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to annual update to December 2017

(3) They Call It Justice: Brian Lawrence, Book Guild (2002).

(4) CPS Director faces dissent from lawyers: Independent, 12 November 1993

(5) The Public and the Police, Harriet Sergeant, Civitas, 2008

(6) Now justice is a joke, says veteran bobby Daily Express, 11 February 2011

(7) Crown Prosecution Service: Annual Report and Accounts 2012/13

Crown Prosecution Service: Annual Report and Accounts 2014/15

(8) Dr Rodger Patrick (2014) A Tangled Web: Why You Can’t Believe Crime Statistics, Civitas 

We regularly fiddle the crime numbers, admit police: Times, 20 November 2013

(9) Street crime figures ‘fiddled’: Daily Telegraph, 15 September 2002

11million crime left out of the figures: Daily Mail, 2006

Violent crimes are being ignored by the police, says report: Independent, 22 October 2009

Police ‘encouraged to reclassify crimes to keep numbers down’: Metro, 4 April 2011

(10) We regularly fiddle the crime numbers, admit police: Times, 20 November 2013

(11) See for example the Birt Report (2001) which reported that at least 132million indictable crimes alone were committed annually, not the 5million published by the government for that year.

(12) Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to annual update to December 2017 

(13) United States Crime Rates 1960-2015. Compiled from Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports

It’s Incredible How Much Safer America Has Become Since the 1980s

(14) Tough for Whom? Assessing the Impact of Discretion on California’s Three Strikes Law: Jennifer Walsh, PhD

(15) Crime in the United States, U.S. Department of Justice, federal. Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Service Division

It’s Incredible How Much Safer America Has Become Since the 1980s

London worse for crime than New York: Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2017

(16) See examples such as:

In 1979 reconviction rates of offenders placed under supervision in the community t were 41 per cent, measured over two years; they are now over 56 pepr cent measured over one year.

Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Issue 34/86, Reconviction of those given Probation Orders, published 1986

Ministry of Justice, 2013 Compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis and Prison Statistics, England and Wales, 1999 (published in 2000), which showed that the reconviction rate for all males on probation orders (the majority) was 63 per cent, and for those with 7 or more previous convictions it was 72 per cent. For those supervised on Drug Testing and Treatment Orders, the reconviction rate was over 80 per cent.

HO Bulletin 15/04 Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2003, published December 2004

Home Office Research Findings no.184: The Impact of Drug Treatment and Testing Orders on Offending: 2-year reconviction rates.

(17) Examples of failure rehabilitation programmes (reconviction rates of between 70 and 80 per cent):

Accredited Programmes, NAPO News, Issue 157, March 2004

S. Merrington and S. Stanley, ‘What Works’: Revisiting the Evidence in England and Wales, Probation Journal, 5:1, pp 7-20, 2004

Jail ‘thinking’ courses show you can’t teach an old lag new tricks: Times, 7 August 2003. http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2003/08/04/monday-4-august-2003/

Prisoners fail to curb the inner man: Times, 18 November 2003

Release me from this paperwork: Times, 5 August 2003

Home Office Research Findings no 161 (2003). An Evaluation of Cognitive Behavioural Treatment for Prisoners

Community Rehabilitation Companies not having any impact, say inspectors: HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Media Release, July 2017

£3.7 billion flop: Damning verdict on Cameron-era bid to cut crime: Daily Mail, 21 June 2017

Raynor, P & Vanstone, M (1994), STOP Programme for Offenders. Third Interim Evaluation Report, Glamorgan Probation Service (reconviction rate 70 per cent)

Raynor, P & Vanstone, M (1994), Probation Practice. Effectiveness and non-treatment paradigm. British Journal of Social Work, 24, 387-404

Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate, Research Finding no. 81: Motor Projects in England and Wales. An Evaluation by Darren Sugg (1998) (reconviction rate 80 per cent)

(All these reconviction rates must be considered against a background of very low detection rate of approximately 5 per cent, therefore their true re-offending rates will be much higher.)

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David Fraser
David Fraser is the author of Licence to Kill, Britain’s Surrender to Violence. He is a former senior probation officer and criminal intelligence analyst with the National Criminal Intelligence Service (now the National Crime Agency).

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