Saturday, July 22, 2006

criminal justice

Currently the police make some two million arrests each year.

In 2003-04 almost one million stop and searches were carried out.

And in England and Wales in 2004;

About quarter of a million police cautions, and nearly 64,000 penalty notices for disorder were issued,

There were more than two million prosecutions, with one and a half million convictions - usually for petty and trivial offences. The rate for television licence evasion conviction was 20 times that for sexual offences, and convictions for minor motoring offences were 18 times greater than for violence against the person,

100,000 prison sentences, 200,000 community sentences and one million fines were imposed.

The Prime Minister has stated that the criminal justice system is 'utterly useless for getting on top of 21st century crime.'

In response, the Home Secretary John Reid announced a 24-point criminal justice package designed to increase punishments and prison populations. In the face of record prison populations, 78,000 and rising, these provisions introduce a further 8,000 prison places and longer sentences. A Labour endorsement of Michael Howard's "prison works" policy.

The key question is, will these proposals reduce crime?

The Crime and Society Foundation (CSF) Report, 'Right for the wrong reasons: Making sense of criminal justice failure,' takes the view that it won't. It's main conclusions are that the reform of the criminal justice system and the reduction of crime are separate issues. Reform of criminal justice should not be confused with reducing crime. The role of the criminal justice system is to regulate certain types of crimes and criminals, not to resolve crime and make a safer society. Crime reduction demands the development of policies very different from those of the criminal justice system.

The report goes on to point out that the majority of the most serious and violent offences never end in successful conviction, and suggests that instead of attempting to increase the conviction rates, the social and economic causes of crime should be addressed. The real crime reduction challenge, it argues, does not lie within the criminal justice system, but social and economic change.

Richard Garside, the report's author, said: "Our levels of crime and victimisation reflect the way that we organise our society, not the relative toughness of our criminal justice system. The way to a safer and lower crime society lies in policies to reduce poverty, challenge sexism, and tackle concentrations of power. The criminal justice system is one of the least effective means of reducing and controlling crime."

Other reports echo the concerns relating to poverty and crime victims.

A previous CSF study revealed that the top 10% richest Britons are now 4% less likely to be murdered than in the early 1980s, but the poorest 10% are 39% more likely to end up as murder victims. It pointed to a link between rising murder rates and young men leaving school in the early 1980s, a time of mass unemployment. Stephen Dorling, the report author, said, 'The poorer the place you live in the more likely you are to be murdered. The rate of murder in Britain can be seen as a marker of social harm.'

The Institute for Public Policy Research reported that the residents of the most deprived areas are 2.5 times more likely to be mugged, and burgled than those living in the least deprived neighbourhoods. 59 per cent of children from ‘On Track’ areas were victims of crime in 2004, with more than 25 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls from deprived areas having been physically attacked.

The latest Home Office crime figures reinforce the link between deprivation and crime. In South Yorkshire there was a 35% rise in violent crime from 2004/5 to 2005/6 which contributed to a 16% increase in all crime. (11 of Doncaster's 23 council wards are amongst the 10% most deprived wards in the country).

The criminal justice system is geared to the construction and maintenance of social order. A government view confirmed by Jack Straw, who said that the purpose of the Home Office was to deal with ‘dysfunctional individuals – criminals, asylum seekers, people who do not wish to be subject to social control.’ Little wonder then that politicians look to criminal control mechanisms to tackle social problem, and unsurprising that they fail. It also explains why those ensnared within the criminal justice system are disproportionately from poor, marginalised and excluded populations.

As the Crime and Society Foundation report makes clear, 'if criminal justice tends to regulate rather than resolve social problems, it is likely to entrench rather than address the wider inequalities and imbalances that give rise to such problems.'

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