Friday, 19 September 2008

A factor of Five

Does prison reform criminals and provide enough of a deterrent to stop them ever going back?

Er, No. According to studies by the Home Office, between 75 and 80% of adult male prisoners are re-convicted within two years of being released from prison. The Police federation, taking into consideration allegations of crime where a named suspect (with known previous convictions or precons as we call them) who were not charged, and incidents where Police dealt but no crime allegations were made, suggest a more conservative estimate of upwards of 90% of convicted prisoners being involved in crime after being released from prison. Even if you are of the "innocent until proven guilty in court" brigade, upwards of 80% is still pretty damn high.

Some people argue that prison doesn't stop people committing crime because we have more repeat criminals than ever. The fact that sentences are considerably shorter than ever before and you have to do a hell of a lot to actually get a custodial sentence because of the increased prison population is lost on them. The kind of people who argue that prison doesn't work are also the ones who believe that simply getting arrested by the Police would devastate their lives, they have little or no experience of actually dealing with criminals 'at the coal face' and the thought of going to prison terrifies them. I read a great line the other day on The Coppersblog during a discussion about sentencing guidelines in reference to prison -

"It's like doubting aspirin works because you took one 3 months ago and now you have a headache"

Personally, I don't care if criminals are reformed. If they commit a crime, go to prison, get reformed and then never commit another crime for the rest of their lives then great, that can only be good for society and the people like you and me who want to live honest lives. If they don't get reformed, but never commit another crime for the rest of their lives because prison scared them so much that they never wanted to go back, then also great. Same result, different paths to get there, but at the end of it no one else has to suffer.

One thing is certain about prison - if someone is inside, even if only on remand, they're not able to be out committing crime, and that can only be a good thing. The fact that re-conviction rates are so high means that the only respite from the vast majority of criminals is when they are locked away. I am well aware that other crimes are committed by people in prison such as drug use and assaults on Prison Officers and other inmates, but at least they aren't out screwing over innocent peoples homes or otherwise making their lives a misery.

When I was first looking at joining the Job, I went out on a 'ride along' for a night shift. Whilst out in the area car I experienced my first hunt for a burglar who had been disturbed in the process of breaking into someones house. It was, quite frankly, awesome. The officers I was with predicted the identity of the suspect based on his MO (modus operandi or method of operating) and then successfully tracked him down, as they knew his usual haunts and what routes he would use to get there that kept him mostly out of sight. Once they had him stopped the dog unit tracked back to the house, and that was him in the bins (custody) for the night.

Job done, and I was hooked.

They knew that the suspect had not long been released from prison, and as he was a prolific offender, his release had been circulated to the officers as "one to watch out for". The suspect had in excess of 50 convictions for various offences but mainly burglary and possession of class A drugs. As a habitual hard drug user, he used burglary as his method of getting the cash together to get his fix and by his own admission (he had a number of outstanding burglaries TIC'd or taken into consideration, confessing to them to get leniency at court) he was committing around 2-3 every couple of days. This by the way is not a lot, I've heard of people doing 5-10 a day.

Despite his numerous previous convictions, he never got more than a year of actual jail time when convicted at court because he never had aggravating factors such as violence or weapons, hardly ever targeted homes where the owners were in, always TIC'd a few burglaries and always pleaded guilty at the first hearing. As much as I hate burglars (number 3 on my list of criminals I hate after paedos and rapists) he would be classed as a low risk offender, even a nice burglar in the eyes of the court, if there can be such a thing.

Clearly he wasn't reformed, and the risk of going back obviously did nothing to deter him from violating peoples homes. By his own admission however, every single day he spent in custody physically stopped him from being able to burgle someone.

Since joining I have had dealings with hundreds, if not a couple of thousand, of people with criminal convictions. I can only remember a handful of those with less only one or two precons, it actually comes as a somewhat pleasant surprise when you get a court print of someones precons and there is hardly anything on it. In stark contrast, I've also seen prolific offenders with a precon list running into the 200's. Just think about that for a moment, over two hundred convictions at court. Then think about the number of times they would have been arrested and not charged, or committed offences and were never identified as the suspect, let alone the amount of Police and court time taken up by just one person.

I don't think I've ever met a Police officer who honestly thinks that sentencing of criminals in this country is appropriate to the crimes committed. We often have discussions at work about what kind of sentencing system would be more effective at stopping criminals. Examples of suggestions would include enforced cold turkey for drug addicts, hanging, shooting, 400 year prison sentences like they have in the states and building a huge wall around the Isle of Wight and dumping them all there to fight it out amongst themselves - Escape from New York style.

My personal view is that the more someone chooses to commit crime, the more they should have the possibility of them being able to commit crime removed. The only way to do that is to remove them from society by locking them up in a cell. Yes, they may have more gucci kit than a benefit scrounges council house, better meals than I would ever be able to get in a canteen (and free) and all the DVD's they would ever want, but at least they won't be able to stick a pint glass in your face when pissed, kick your front door in while your kids are asleep, or stamp you to death for asking them ever so politely to bugger off somewhere else at 4 in the morning instead of getting drunk outside your house.

My ideal would be a minimum tariff, irrespective of the crime, that escalates exponentially with more convictions as it would eventually completely remove those people who chose to turn to criminality. Here's how my sentencing guidelines would work - firstly you start off with a weeks custodial, regardless of the offence. If they commit an offence that would attract a higher custodial sentence for a first time conviction (like murder) then the higher sentence takes over. After the first offence conviction, you increase every subsequent sentence by a factor of five. A second time offender would get a minimum of five weeks, third would get twenty five etc. After no more than five convictions someone is going to be locked away for at least twelve years, if they are stupid enough to get a conviction after that then they're going to be locked away for the rest of their useful life. Their problem, not mine, and I think five chances is four more than they need to get the hint.

This system of sentencing is extremely harsh, but then that puts the emphasis on the person to make sure they keep their noses clean and not get in trouble. The thing I love about it is it's fair, it doesn't discriminate, if you're a criminal or feel that crime is the easy way out, or you don't care about anyone else and get drunk and lamp people for no reason, then hey, you're going to pay for it by being locked up.

As long as there are people who have never been victims of crime, don't live in areas where criminals make peoples lives hell, but who will defend the view that locking criminals up isn't the right answer, then I'll continue to be arresting people with 50, 100 or 200 previous convictions. In the meantime we all get the benefit and joy of living in a society where criminals exploit our refusal to lock them up and throw away the key.

Annoying, isn't it?



MarkUK said...

Some nice points MCM, but I have to disagree with a fair amount of the post.

Firstly though, I feel that the sentence served should have more connection with what the judge thinks it should be, rather than what is currently served.

I do want prisoners rehabilitated - it costs less in the long run.

According to various reports, 60-80% of prisoners are functionally illiterate. At one time, that would not have been a barrier to getting a reasonable wage as there was always a use for people who could lift things and dig holes. these days, machines do those jobs. Literacy, and increasingly computer skills, are needed for even relatively mundane jobs.

People who are effectively unemployable have two alternatives; the "social" or crime. Let's rehabilitate them by teaching them to read, write and do simple sums. They could do this instead of playing on the Wii.

However, the biggest deterrent is detection. If someone faced the death penalty for theft but knew that they stood no chance of being caught, it would be no deterrent. If the sentence was one month, but they were going to get caught every time, then even the thickest would eventually get the message.

If this takes another 80,000 police officers then it would be worth it!

M.B. said...


These prolific offenders know between right and wrong, simple as that. They know its wrong to jump through a persons window and take what doesn't belong to them. They know its wrong to stamp and beat some person bloody and unconcious. But they do it anyway! Why? Because they can! Because the sentences handed out are light and mean nothing and they know they will be out in weeks or months! Reabilitate them, how? They know between right and wrong, alot of them can't be arsed to get a job or move and get a job, unlike a lot of immigrants, they leave their homeland and come here to get a better way of life/more money, whatever the reason they make an effort. Unlike alot of our poor poor, sociallly deprived chavs who want to go out p*ss their dole up the wall and beat people up! Why because the government and courts let them, because they can!

Strike 3 or 4 throw away the key. I bet their would be alot less prolific offenders then

jerym said...

Make prison not just the "deprivation of liberty"that appals the sheltered members of society who know bugger all about the real world, so bloody unpleasant that they will think twice about going back a second or third time.As for illiteracy that should have been sorted out long before they got to the age of seven along with a few other things.

Blue Eyes said...

An interesting idea MCM. I would have quite high mandatory sentences for violent crime and robbery/burglary as well. That might mean that a first offender got more than your week! There is absolutely no mitigating factor in the world that can excuse going into somebody else's home or threatening them on the street. None.

I would have three "serious" strikes and you're out, or perhaps five "minor".

I would also make prison a lot less pleasant. When Jack Straw said to that prisoner that "depriving you of your liberty is punishment enough" he really let us know what the "elite" think. Prison should be no more than human. I am all for modern prisons but I don't see why prisoners should have a higher standard of living than most taxpayers!

Anonymous said...

No one forces someone else to rape, rob, assault, lie, cheat or steal. They do it, as mentioned above, because they can and any penalties are both miniscule and looked at as an acceptable risk. If or when an offender is sentenced to prison, they have 50% of the sentence removef 'for good behaviour' the minute they are driven through the gates. Their is no incentive for them to behave in prison as they know their sentences will not be increased (Human Rights legislation) and they class each day a success if they put one over the system, the governor or a prison officer - this also increases their personal image inside so they continue in that vein. A really strong Home Secretary would introduce a system which used to be the norm in military prisons, but which has also fallen under the Human Rights Act. The first part of the sentence is punishment for the crime - no privileges and only the bare acceptable minimum of accommodation. Physical employment for the betterment of the prison would be the norm. As the sentence progresses, any contravention of the rules causes the initial conditions to continue. Privileges come with better behaviour, acceptance of the offence and attempts to better themselves through education or trade training and this forms the second part of the sentence - rehabilitation. Any remission is also based on conduct in this second part of the sentence. Unfortunately, the chances of a strong Home Secretary is as likely as Bucks Fizz having the next Christmas No 1.

Metcountymounty said...

Blue Eyes, as I said in the post if someone commits a first offence that carries a sentence higher than a usual weeks custodial then they should of course get that one! The rationale behind having a week for the first offence is the vast majority of criminals don't jump straight into the GBH club, they start of with vandalism/shoplifting/burglary or generally being an obnoxious drunken twat. Therefore having the shock of a week inside for their first offence should hopefully be the kick in the arse that they need, and as everyone will know what to expect then everyone also knows what they need to do to not start missing chunks of their useful life by being in prison!

Anonymous said...

It's a great idea and, speaking as someone with a criminal past it dovetails nicely with what I've long thought. Society expects (within some quite large boundaries) conformance, when I got sent to a YOI (and it was my first and only offence) I spent the first two months railing against the unjust system that had sent me there. I was very fortunate in that (in part *because* it was a long sentence) I had the time to learn that it wasn't going to change and that the sooner I accepted it, buckled down and got on with living acceptably the better it would be for *ME*.

I still don't know if I would be for immediate imprisonment for a 1st offence but there are three things that I do think should be introduced...

1) The breach of one order must be mandated to be only be punishable by the imposition of the next level of sentencing above. No ifs, no ands, no excuses.

2) There should be a sliding scale of "Guilty" discount, at the moment there is no penalty for lying to the court right up until (it seems like) seconds before a full blown trial. I would start at as high as 50% for an immediate admission reducing to as low as 10% for one on the courthouse steps. (I would also change mandatory sentences to be NET not Gross of discounts)

3) Reform the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act so that people who do go straight are able to put it behind them sooner depending on the sentences and number of offences. You make the right decision after your first sentence you can leave it all behind after as little as the same again after completion. If it takes you five offences to go straight it will take 5 times as long.

At the moment it is hellishly difficult to find a job with an offence behind you, the antiquated RoOA just increases the difficulty tenfold. I still worry to this day that I will lose my job and need to find another 23yrs after my solitary brush with the law. Don't care who you are, I personally think that's a bit extreme.

Grendel said...

Why are you saying that Prision Officers are not innocent?

Blue Eyes said...

I wasn't arguing against your system, I like it. I was just saying that I would be very clear about what I think of as serious crimes - where the victim is unlikely to "get over it".

Splodge Of Doom said...

There really has to be a balance. I think the system needs two halves - Punishment and Rehab. We currently have a pathetic, half arsed version of part 2 and almost no part 1.

Prison should be a horrific experience that noone would ever wish to repeat, followed up by a sort of enforced school. Less harsh, still strict, won't let you go until you reach a standard of literacy etc. and learned a trade.

Then you have someone who would rather die than go back inside, and has the necessary skills to become a useful member of society. If they reoffend after that, you can just shoot them and be done with it.

An oversimplification, no doubt, but it would work a hell of a lot better than what we have now...

Metcountymounty said...

Grendel - I wasn't trying to suggest that prison officers aren't innocent or any less important than anyone else. By virtue of the role they are knowingly in harms way and trained to deal with it, just as Police officers are, unlike an unsuspecting member of the public faced with someone they don't know to be a threat until the last moment, a threat that shouldn't be out on the street. Believe me, it gets on my tits just as much as anyone else that attacks on Police and prison officers are now considered nothing more than an occupational hazard by the judiciary.

Splodge - agreed that prison should be somewhere that no one ever wants to go back to unlike the Hilton that they have at the moment with people electing to stay because it's nicer than what they have outside!! There are a few people such as rapists and paedos that deserve to a couple of rounds in the back of the head, but anyone else stupid enough to commit a crime knowing that prison is akin to hell on earth and still goes through with it, equally deserves to be put through it again!!

cramerj said...

You all mention old fashioned crimes like rape or assault. But the police happily arrest for thought crimes and speech crimes which are basically the whim of the current regime.
Rehabilitation would need a concentration camp setup to stop people saying things you say are now illegal.

Metcountymounty said...

you're absolutely right cramerj, and just to show exactly how many thought crimes we're arresting for nowadays, here's my last ten bods -

Drink drive x3
theft x2
abh x1
gbh x2
robbery x2.

Nice factually based post you have there....... or just possibly a load of old bollocks?

Anonymous said...

Commendable. But is it just a blip?

You have NEVER arrested anyone for thosethought crimes brought in since 1997?


practice what you preach in these postings of yours and be honest now...

XTP said...

MCM - re: your body count - sheesh! That'd be my team's count for the week down in sunny Channel South :o)

Metcountymounty said...

xtp - lots of people who get drunk and fight each other, others who come up town to rob the drunk and others who get drunk and drive home. Oh the joy of drink, cos alcohol related crime hasn't increased under labour of course.....

Anon 1049 - if someone can tell me exactly what the hell a thought crime is then I'll let you know, but I'm pretty sure no one at training school went through the mystical "thought crime Act" so as I said, it's bollocks.