River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Village Pump Soapbox

February 2003

Soft on Crime?

In the May issue of the Pump I expressed my disapproval of the proposal to keep criminals out of prison by the use of tagging. Now there is further evidence of the move to be soft on crime in that the Country's most senior judge, The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, recently urged the courts to jail fewer burglars, especially first offenders. He even suggested that the courts should only resort to prison sentences when absolutely necessary and that sentences should be as short as possible.

I am becoming totally disenchanted with the criminal justice system in this Country. We seem to apprehend a relatively small proportion of the culprits and, when the police do finally bring those few suspects to court, only a small proportion of them are actually convicted, often because of some smart lawyer using the law in a manner contrary to its intentions, so that the guilty go free. Those that are actually convicted are often given totally inadequate sentences so that they are back on the streets far too soon, usually to commit further offences.

In fairness to the Government they did propose a 'three strikes and you're out' policy for burglars in which they gave the courts the freedom to impose a long sentence for repeat offenders but a recent survey revealed that this rule had been applied in only six cases in the two years since it was introduced. Sometimes I do wonder what our judiciary are doing.

Of course we need to pay more attention to reducing the causes of crime. We need much better facilities and a clearer policy for the treatment of drug addiction, both inside and outside of prison, and we need to continue the drive to reduce the extent of real poverty, but it would be naive to think that all criminals were driven by poverty alone, no doubt many are driven by greed. I believe quite strongly that longer sentences for repeat offenders would lead to a reduction in crime. They would have the double effect of providing a strong deterrent whilst simultaneously keeping more criminals off the streets. Arguments about the high prison population and the cost of prisons should not worry us if the figures for the annual cost of crime to the nation are true, money spent on reducing crime could be a good investment. . Whilst I would advocate longer sentences, it does seem as though there is an urgent need for a major overhaul of the prison system. I find it quite incredible, for example, that, within the confines of a prison, it is not possible to control the supply of drugs to prisoners. I also believe, as I have said before, that there should be much greater effort within the prisons towards rehabilitation, which implies more facilities and more staff to enable prisoners to develop the skills that would enable them to become more useful members of society and that incentive for them to learn these skills should be provided by linking parole to their success in acquiring them..

Footnote: Recent figures published by the Government's social exclusion unit show that burglars are more likely to re-offend after release from prison than other criminals. They also show that those that served a long sentence are less likely to re-offend than those that have served a short sentence.

Ron Watts

Copyright remains with independent content providers where specified, including but not limited to Village Pump contributors. All rights reserved.