Some 1,300 people have been arrested during the disorder in cities across the country, including nearly 800 in London. Courts are being kept open all night to deal with these cases.

The BBC reported that magistrates are remanding people in custody and will send them to crown courts because they claim not to have sufficient powers to deal with them. Magistrates can sentence someone to prison for up to six months and have a wide range of community sanctions available. So sending defendants up to the crown court implies that these people are likely to be sent to prison for much longer periods.

I am not going to get embroiled in political discussions about the morality or probity of the riots, disorder and looting, but I think it important to say that I doubt the efficacy of imprisoning a looter for months or years will instil in them a new found and firm civic duty and sense of community responsibility.

Apparently the police cells are full to bursting with people awaiting court appearances. The prisons in London are certainly full and so it is likely that should arrests continue, people will have to be detained in police cells and court cells for weeks or possibly months. I was in a training prison yesterday and the managers were planning to receive an influx of prisoners currently in the local prison as the whole system is creaking and needs to shift everyone along.

This means that prisons holding long term prisoners that currently provide work and training will be so clogged up with additional short sentenced prisoners that programmes will be halted. Overcrowding will take over the long term prisons. Last time that happened there were riots in prisons. So we may be shifting the problem of disorder from the streets to prisons, arguably even more dangerous and more expensive. It is ironic that an inspection report this week on Wandsworth prison condemned the prison as being unsafe and indecent, with high levels of violence and abusive staff. So do we really think that sending a first time criminal who stupidly got caught up in looting to Wandsworth is going to do any good at all? Would it not be better to sentence them to some community service so they work in their neighbourhood to repair the damage in constructive way. Everyone would benefit from that.

I was particularly disturbed by the prime minister’s comments that if children are old enough to commit the crimes they are old enough to face the punishment. The riots were not being led by children and I don’t think the children were old enough to commit the crimes. Politicians have to temper their comments and not be tempted by the lynch mob. British politicians could do well to well to follow the example of Norwegian political leaders who responded with dignity, compassion and statesmanship in the face of the most serious provocation.

August 11, 2011 · Frances Crook · 10 Comments
Posted in: Uncategorized

10 Responses

  1. Jonny Zander - August 12, 2011

    Thank you for this blog. I could not agree more, and Kaizen will very soon be publishing a blog of our own echoing your sentiment and calling for community based restorative justice as the ethical and practical approach we should follow. In amongst the current avalanche of ill informed and ill considered analysis and commentary it is a pleasure to read your blog.

    Jonny Zander
    Kaizen Partnership

  2. Michael - August 15, 2011

    Thank you for this thought-provoking article. I agree with what you have written. It is worth remembering the remark in the recent Scottish Commission report – “High prison populations do not reduce crime; they are more likely to create pressures that drive reoffending.”

    Your readers might be interested in an item on my blog
    on the same theme.

  3. Jean Henderson - August 16, 2011

    I agree, I think the wider scale ramifications of the use of custody for so many of those involved in the riots is worrying, and to a large extent counter productive. The response seems to be driven by revenge instead of the prevention of further disorder. The threatened withdrawal of homes and benefits will do little to engage with the families of those involved.

  4. Freddie - August 17, 2011

    Hello Frances,

    I disagree with you.

    Leniency in sentencing has clearly played its part in the corrosion of society that we have witnessed over the last 25 years and the vast majority of the public think it’s high time that error was corrected.

    You suggest that we may be ‘shifting the disorder from the streets to the prisons’, well if there is a section of the population that is determined to behave anarchically then surely this is the correct reponse?

  5. Roger Osborne - August 17, 2011

    Good Morning
    I watched you on TV this morning with 3 ordinary guys with no axe to grind who watched some scenes of rioting and the attitudes of the rioters.
    Have you spoken to the victims? I doubt it.
    I’m sorry you are completely out of step of the mass of silent majority. Normally I have empathy with your general attitude.
    You are very wrong here and I was shocked at the naivety.
    Please rethink Regards Roger

  6. Christian Day - August 17, 2011

    How can you claim that “children” could not have carried out crimes when numerous eye witnesses and huge amounts of tv footage showed children as young as ten looting and causing civil unrest.
    It is time that those who comitt crimes are dealt with by the law instead of being brushed under the carpet or given rehabilitation as an alternative. As many of those involved in the riots stated, the police were powerless to stop them and a police caution was a more than acceptable risk to them.
    It is time that the public feared police punishment rather than looked forward to lenient treatment.

  7. Chris - August 17, 2011

    I am a Croydon resident and a parent. Much as I would like to believe that your view is worthy, I am afraid that most of the recent offenders would view community service as a complete joke. Have any of you been to Croydon’s poorest areas and listened to these kids? You would find it shocking to do so, and you would certainly change your views on how to tackle this problem. Young girls without prospects openly speak about getting pregnant “because they can get a council flat and a welfare cheque”. Young boys speak about crime in a routine and disturbing way, they believe crime is acceptable because there are no consequences to their actions.
    As a nation we have pursued softly softly reforms for far too long. These riots are a direct result. The perceived lack of consequences was clear in offenders approach to carrying out these crimes.
    It is time for the suffering silent majority to stand up and say no more! Local shopkeepers have been terrorised for years, local hoodies have intimidated our neighbourhoods for years, and the schools and police have not been allowed to act for fear of losing their jobs or worse. It is now time for zero tolerance and tougher measures.
    If prison is awful for criminals, then so be it. If families of criminals lose benefits then so be it. We can no longer tolerate crime as we have in recent years – the streets of Croydon and other affected areas must be reclaimed for good families and good citizens to live peacefully without fear and intimidation and crime. We will send a message which tells a new generation of parents and children that crime is not tolerated and carries severe penalties, but that if you behave well, you will be welcome as part of our community.

  8. Lookout - August 17, 2011

    I can’t believe there are still namby pambys in the UK who can’t understand the problem and the only realistic solution, which is finally being applied. The claim that severe penalties don’t work is belied by the extremely low crime rates in the Middle East. Let them try their looting and pillaging in Saudi Arabia and see what happens. There has to be a fear of the law or the anarchy will never stop.

  9. Colin - August 17, 2011

    Civil disorder of this kind is one area of criminal behaviour where deterent sentences are most effective and such sentences send out a strong message that law & order must be maintained for the benefit of society as a whole. As civil values have been eroded for many years such excess of disorder is not so surprising and there was something almost casual about the behaviour of those involved. They were not inhibited by moral boundaries, so it is left to the law to effect those boundaries for the sake of society.

  10. Where is Justice? | Kaizen Blog - October 6, 2011

    [...] practical point of view, as Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League recently wrote in an excellent blog: “I doubt the efficacy of imprisoning a looter for months or years will instil in them a new [...]

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