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Coffee House

See no crime, hear no crime and speak no crime

28 January 2013

8:55 AM

28 January 2013

8:55 AM

In the current issue of The Spectator, we put on the cover four words that sum up the coalition government’s approach to crime: pretend not to notice. Today’s Birmingham Mail offers a snapshot of what we mean:

‘The data, released under the Freedom of Information Act, showed the crimes were committed by 11,422 lawbreakers – meaning on average each carried out three offences within 12 months of being released on licence or receiving a community sentence.’

That’s an astonishing 33,000 offences in West Midlands committed over two years by those on the alternatives to jail: suspended sentences or community sentences. Or by those released from jail early, in what’s supposed to be a cost-saving strategy. The symbol of England’s failure in the fight against crime is the tag. Since David Cameron came to power an astonishing 280,000 people have been tagged – more people than were given tax cuts by the last budget – and as Theodore Dalrymple says in his cover story  ministers know this does not work. Tagging, certainly the way it is done in England, is hopelessly ineffectual. In Scotland things are not much better: a fifth of all crime is carried out by people who are already on bail. The Birmingham Mail finds that almost a third of those handed non-custodial sentences went on to reoffend in the next 12 months. And while shocking, it should not be surprising – a Home Office study about a decade ago showed that the average prisoner commits 140 crimes the year before being locked up.

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The Tories campaigned in the last election with posters attacking Labour for early release. And it was a Tory – Ken Clarke – who then decided to close prisons once in office. The Tories have not taken much heat for this U-turn, but fairly soon it will be possible to calculate the extra crime it created. Yes, prison is expensive and yes it has its problems with rehabilitation. But prison works for non-criminals because it locks up the bad guys. A stunning amount of crime in Britain is committed by a tiny number of criminals. The coalition’s attempts to save cash by closing prisons will have a cost, and it will be paid by the poorer communities who tend to be – disproportionately – the victims of crime. Do read Theodore’s piece, and we discuss this on the View from 22 Podcast here.

Yesterday’s Sunday Times splashed on an investigation into why police are giving cautions to violent criminals, rather than arresting them, to cut down on paperwork. We sum this up in our cover illustration by Morten Morland who portrays the judges and coppers as the three monkeys. It’s a a policy of see no crime, hear no crime and speak no crime.

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