FIVE decades ago, Britain stopped fighting crime and declared war on prisons. Since then, our justice system has sought to divert as many offenders as possible from a jail sentence. The mantra which heralded this revolution was ‘prisons make offenders worse’, even though the evidence points to the reverse. This anti-jail policy took the form of a pincer movement. One jaw was set to close in and stop as many criminals as possible from being prosecuted. The other closed in to prevent those that were prosecuted from being imprisoned.
Pretend punishments are now the order of the day. Murderers are given pretend ‘life’ sentences, and every year thousands of thieves and violent offenders are let off with a warning. This is despite the fact that tens of thousands of criminals go on to commit more offences within days of such disposals. It is now known, for example, that more than half of those involved in the summer riots of 2011, involving arson and violence, had been let off with a caution for earlier crimes (1). Figures published in March 2020 reveal that more than 200,000 offences were dealt with ‘out of court’, 52,000 of which were for violence (2).
Others escape an appearance before a magistrate if they apologise to their victims and or perform some menial task as retribution. More recently, the police in many areas have allowed violent criminals and thieves to escape a court appearance if they agree to take part in a police-run rehabilitation course (3).(What has happened? Why are the police doing this?) The police have also allowed millions of other crimes to go unprosecuted by the simple expedient of ignoring them (4).
However, it is probably the Crown Prosecution Service which is the star performer in this corruption of British justice. Since its inception in the 1980s, it has, every year, closed thousands of criminal files handed to it by the police (and sometimes hundreds of thousands), despite, as is often the case, there being ample evidence to proceed.
In 2018 a milestone was reached in the practice of British justice. In that year the number of crimes prosecuted was 1.59million, the lowest on record. This included a drop in prosecutions for the most serious crimes. A former chief crown prosecutor said that ‘the crisis in British justice is worse now than I have ever known it’ (5).
It does not end there. There are now also fewer crimes detected. In 1975, for example, 81 per cent of violent crimes were cleared up. In 2014 it was 42 per cent (6). In other words, thousands of violent crimes, such as wounding, grievous bodily harm and assault, are committed without even a suspect being uncovered, let alone being convicted. In addition, fear of reprisal is one of the reasons why the proportion of victims pulling out of criminal prosecution cases has doubled in the last five years (7).
All of this has occurred in parallel with rising crime, particularly violent crime. In 1950 the number of violent crimes against the person was 14 per 100,000 of the population. In 2015 it was 1,437. (8). Since then, homicides and other violent crime have continued to escalate.
The government’s annual figures which have shown overall crime falling for several years are now known to be not worth the paper they are written on. At least two separate but little-known government reports in 2000, Reducing Crime, compiled by John Birt (now Lord Birt) for Tony Blair, and Home Office Report 217 found that the number of crimes committed each year far exceed those reported to the public in the annual returns (9).
Offenders who are dealt with in court face a battery of non-custodial sentencing options which keep almost all of them out of prison. In 2018, for example, 77 per cent of offenders were fined and only 6 per cent were sentenced to immediate custody (10).
The number of offenders placed under supervision in the community, often as an alternative to a prison sentence, has increased. In 1961, 40,000 were sentenced in this way; in 2014 the figure was close to 119,000 (11). This increase has occurred despite the fact that criminals commit millions of offences whilst being monitored by the probation service.
Measured against the number of crimes committed, our imprisonment rate has fallen over the last 60 years (11a). In 2018 the numbers jailed for all types of offence reached a ten-year low, falling to 76,800 (12). The average length of prison sentences is now reported to be 22 months, but the time served will be less than half that.
In 2011 a new twist was added to the story of Britain’s pretend justice system. ‘Gang-related injunction orders’ were introduced. Their alleged purpose was to prevent known criminals, including violent offenders, from associating with each other, and so reduce their opportunities to commit crime. Their purpose is not to stop offenders from committing crime – it is imprisonment that does that. The authorities knew that such injunctions would have no effect on offenders. The consistent failure of all non-custodial methods to deter crime leaves no room for doubt about that. They are a pretend punishment, yet one more device to keep as many violent gang members as possible out of jail, and provide the public with the pretence of meaningful police activity.
A recently reported case illustrates this. In 2019 a persistent and violent criminal, Dylan Callender O’Brien, 19, was made the subject of a gang-related injunction order. It prohibited him from travelling to certain parts of London and from using an unregistered mobile phone. He ignored these conditions, but once again was protected from jail and was given a suspended prison sentence. Despite the fact that the previous injunction had not worked, the police applied for O’Brien to be made the subject of another one. This banned O’Brien from owning a balaclava, from riding a bicycle in public, from contacting almost 60 of his criminal associates, and from visiting many areas of the capital (13).
Maintaining the pretence, a police officer attached to the Violence Intervention Unit said that ‘gang injunctions are a powerful tool used in our efforts to crack down on gang crime and violence’. It is doubtful that O’Brien saw it that way.
The public pay a high price for this sentencing pantomime. Violent criminals know the odds are stacked against them receiving a severe sentence, should they be caught. In February 2020, two teenagers attacked a 21-year-old man with machetes. They hacked at him in full view of families and children in Preston Park in Wembley, North London. The victim was left in a permanent vegetative state. Despite the fact that both of the criminals had brought machetes with them, and the malignancy of their assault, 19-year-old Keiano Gooden-Josephs was sentenced to 13 years for wounding and 18 months concurrent for carrying a machete, which in practice meant he received nothing for possessing the weapon. His 17-year-old co-attacker was sentenced to 11 years for wounding with no separate penalty for carrying a machete (14). Due to the remission system, Gooden-Josephs will serve no more than eight years and eight months, and his co-attacker just over seven.
It is to be hoped that at some point a political party in Britain will reform our justice system, the need for which could not be more obvious.
(1) Tens of thousands commit a new crime within a month of receiving a caution. Mail Online, January 21, 2012
(2) Annual Statistics, Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly, March 2020. Crime in England and Wales, year ending March 2020
(3) Violent offenders and thieves avoid prosecution in ‘deferred charge’ schemes run by police. Daily Telegraph, January 17, 2020
(4) Greater Manchester Police ‘failed to record 80,000 crimes in a year’ (June 2019/20). BBC News December 10, 2020
See also: A Tangled Web: Why You Can’t Believe Crime Statistics, Rodger Patrick: Civitas 2014
Police encouraged to re-classify crimes to keep numbers down. Metro April 4, 2011
(5) Millions of Crime Victims Denied Justice, Daily Express, August 16, 2019
(6) Home Office Statistical Bulletin: Crime Outcomes in England and Wales 2013/14, HOSB 01/14
(7) Victims of crime ‘losing faith’ in the justice system, Daily Telegraph, February 1, 2020
(8) A Summary of Recorded Crime Data 1898-2001
Home Office Statistical Bulletin Crime in England and Wales 2010/11 HOSB 10/11
HO Statistical Bulletin Crime Outcomes in England and Wales 2013/14 HOSB 01/14
Home Office Crime Outcomes in England and Wales 2014/15, Statistical Bulletin 01/15
(9) Reducing Crime: A Review by John Birt, 20 December 2000 and The Economic and Social Costs of Crime, Home Office Research Study 217, 2000
(10) Millions of crime victims denied justice, Daily Express, August 16, 2019
(11) Rehabilitation and Probation in England and Wales, 1876-1962, by Raymond Gard
Home Office Probation Statistics England and Wales, 1996
(11a) Figures compiled from Data.Gov and Home Office Statistical Bulletins. Summarised in Licence to Kill, Britain’s Surrender to Violence (2018), Book Guild
(12) Millions of crime victims denied justice, Daily Express, August 16, 2019
(13) Teenage gang member banned from owning a balaclava, Daily Telegraph, December 10, 2020
(14) Attack by two violent teenagers leaves victim in vegetative state, Mail Online, March 21, 2020