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August 28, 2007

Polly on Crime

Hmmm.

The surprise in today's poll is that 51% no longer reckon prison is the answer: that should mark a milestone in Labour thinking. After the thundering years of Blair/Straw/Blunkett/Reid rhetoric of retribution driving through a firestorm of criminal justice bills, most people now think alternatives to prison are likely to work better. On Labour's watch the prison population doubled to 80,000, even though crime has fallen steeply, including violent crime.

Still not quite grasping the thought (and I make no claim that this is true, just that it's something which we might consider) that putting people into jail reduces the crime rate?

While nearly 80% of young prisoners are reconvicted, only 55% of people given community sentences reoffend.


A most odd assertion: not that I doubt it, just that again there's an explanation that doesn't seem to occur to Polly. Imagine that we had (!) a well functioning criminal legal system. In the process of sorting through those who have committed crimes we try to decide upon the appropriate sentence for them. One can imagine that there are some sociopaths in the population, those we might simply want to lock up to protect others (there are indeed people serving life sentences where life means life in jail: precisely for this reason). We might also think that at the other end there are those who are not habitual criminals, those who have strayed off the straight and narrow, either on this one occasion only or those for whom the public shame of a conviction, whatever the punishment itself, would be enough to stop reoffending.

There's no need for us to put any particular criminal into one class or the other at this point, just that we acknowledge that there is a spectrum of criminality and that those at one end get heavier punishments than those at the other. And, in our well functioning criminal legal system (!), there's a correlation between those who receive the heavier punishments and the liklihood of their reoffending at some point in the future.

Think, for example, of two caught robbing. One asks for 150 cases (a not unknown number) to be taken into further consideration. For the other this is desperately unlucky: first time doing the crime, gets caught. The former would, I think most people would happily agree, be more likely to reoffend: he's also more likely to get a prison, rather than community, sentence.

So, yes, there is indeed a correlation between prison sentences and the liklihood of reoffending. But what's the causality? That those who receive prison are those already more likely to reoffend? Or, as Polly implies, that it is prison itself which makes people reoffend?

Here are the don't-panic facts: gun and knife carrying is increasing and dangerous, but latest Home Office figures show 50 fatal shootings in 2006, compared with 66 in 1995. There were 243 fatal stabbings in 1995, but only 212 in 2006.


Again, there's an alternative explanation here. Medicine does move on you know (and with the amount thrown at it, one would hope so too): again, I don't insist that this is true, only that it be considered. As Unity points out, incidence of injury is up and deaths are down. So is the NHS simply getting better at dealing with knife and gun trauma?

August 28, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink

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Comments

"Still not quite grasping the thought (and I make no claim that this is true, just that it's something which we might consider) that putting people into jail reduces the crime rate?"

Absolutely.

As I keep reminding members of our discuss group who enthuse about prison as a means for preventing crime, if everyone was put in prison, there would be no crime at all.

OTOH they might start by reading that excellent tract on the relevant trade-offs by Gary Becker: Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach (JPE 1968):
http://www.ww.uni-magdeburg.de/bizecon/material/becker.1968.pdf

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 28, 2007 11:51:32 AM

The less a government invests in it's prisons, the more that society will come to resemble an inverted prison.

Freedom of association (i.e. the right of law abiding people not to associate with criminals) demands that all criminals be separated from society for as long as they are a loss.

The U.K. should look towards minimising the cost of incarcerating those who have proved they are irredeemable by their frequent presence in front of the court.

Posted by: AntiCitizenOne | Aug 28, 2007 12:05:18 PM

"Freedom of association (i.e. the right of law abiding people not to associate with criminals) demands that all criminals be separated from society for as long as they are a loss."

that's an, err, non-traditional definition of "freedom of association"...

Posted by: john b | Aug 28, 2007 12:15:25 PM

"The U.K. should look towards minimising the cost of incarcerating those who have proved they are irredeemable by their frequent presence in front of the court."

"England and Wales have the highest per capita prison population in Western Europe - 143 people per 100,000."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/default.stm

How strange that so many "irredeemable" people should all be concentrated in England and Wales.

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 28, 2007 12:50:49 PM

When the government can openly and wantonly engage in unaccountable criminal behaviour, all talk of a functioning criminal 'justice' system for the proles is moot. We are no longer a country governed under the rule of law.

Posted by: Antipholus Papps | Aug 28, 2007 12:53:13 PM

So what's non-traditional about not wanting to associate with criminals?

Posted by: AntiCitizenOne | Aug 28, 2007 1:22:17 PM

The surprise in today's poll is that 51% no longer reckon prison is the answer

Why does she assume their alternative isn't the stocks though?

Posted by: Blognor Regis | Aug 28, 2007 1:32:14 PM

traditionally 'freedom of association' refers to the government *not* stopping people from meeting each other, rather than the governmnet stopping people from meeting each other.

similarly, it would be non-traditional to suggest that the banning of books was required to ensure freedom of speech.

Posted by: john b | Aug 28, 2007 1:33:45 PM

"As Unity points out, incidence of injury is up and deaths are down. So is the NHS simply getting better at dealing with knife and gun trauma?"

Either that, or they're all just crap shots.

Posted by: ThunderDragon | Aug 28, 2007 1:36:19 PM

Agreed. This is abuse of statistics at its worse.

Posted by: Mark Wadsworth | Aug 28, 2007 2:03:59 PM

"Here are the don't-panic facts:"

"Cases of murder and manslaughter have risen by almost a quarter since Labour came to power, Home Office figures have revealed. Since 1997, the number of homicide victims, including solved and unsolved cases, has averaged 737 per year. In the period from 1990 to 1996, the average was 601. The number of homicide victims has averaged 737 per year since Labour came to power."
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/07/09/ncrime09.xml

Feel reassured now?

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 28, 2007 2:10:21 PM

But then dumb economists like myself are always apt to wonder whether instead of sending convicted criminals to prison to serve ever increasing sentences, a far more effective deterrent to violent crime might be to actually convict more criminals:

"An investigation shows that conviction rates for many of the most violent crimes have been in freefall since Labour came to power in 1997 and are now well below 10 per cent. The chronically low figures for convictions come at the same time as reports that violent crime is increasing. An analysis of Home Office figures reveals that only 9.7 per cent of all 'serious woundings', including stabbings, that are reported to the police result in a conviction. For robberies the figure falls to 8.9 per cent and for rape, it is 5.5 per cent."
http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1784623,00.html

"Conviction rates for serious offences such as wounding and rape are too low, the Attorney General has admitted."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5025924.stm

I mean, there doesn't seem to be much point in having ever longer prison sentences for those convicted of violent crimes when relatively few criminals get convicted for the violent crimes they commit. But perish that subversive thought.

PQs on 4 June 2007:

Mr. Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the trends in crime clear-up rates since 2000. [138481]

Mr. McNulty [holding answer 22 May 2007]: The overall detection rate was 24 per cent. in 2000-01. The detection rate remained broadly stable between 2001-02 and 2003-04 but has since risen to 26 per cent. in 2004-05 and 27 per cent. in 2005-06.
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070604/text/70604w0058.htm

Wonderful.

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 28, 2007 3:39:19 PM

Of course, the stats are loaded anyway. What does "prison" in this context mean? If it refers to the current prison system then at least half my street would speak out against it. But they are all for locking people up, just in a little more medieval a fashion.

Posted by: Philip Thomas | Aug 28, 2007 6:06:30 PM

Prison is not the answer. Cutting their goollies off is the answer.

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 28, 2007 9:28:56 PM

"Prison is not the answer. Cutting their goollies off is the answer"

Your thought has antecedents. Have you not read the finer details of the prescribed procedure for hanging, drawing and quartering?
http://www.richard.clark32.btinternet.co.uk/hdq.html

Posted by: Bob B | Aug 28, 2007 9:57:45 PM

"England and Wales have the highest per capita prison population in Western Europe - 143 people per 100,000."
http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/default.stm

This may be true but as always the question asked must be looked at. If you look at the figures for people incarcerated as a factor ofthe number of crimes committed, the UK (and England and Wales specifically) is nowhere near the top of the table.

David Fraser's magisterial book 'A Land Fit for Criminals' has all the details in horrifying detail.

He also has one of the very few copies of the Birt Report on Crime that was commissioned by Blair in 2000 but was quashed and has only recently seen the light of day.

When you read the first line of the Report you will understand the reason behind the report being buried,
"Key Findings 1
A huge number of indictable offences of all kinds are committed each year - an estimated 130 million offences (of which 65 million are drug offences)
Of this total, there are 14 million offences each year which cause serious trauma to victims".

Given that the national crime statistics admitted to by the Government for the period covered by this report (1999-2000) were between 10-15 million there seems to quite some discrepancy.
http://www.crimestatistics.org.uk/output/Page54.asp

Posted by: Elaib | Aug 29, 2007 10:35:47 AM

So the offences which harm people are generally reported, and the offences which don't are generally not?

That sounds like a sensible way for things to work, in the absence of the political will to abolish laws against things that don't harm people.

Posted by: john b | Aug 29, 2007 11:12:11 AM