Criminals must fear the courts and the police

BORIS Johnson recently pledged to recruit 20,000 extra police officers (1). This is a step in the right direction but we should have no illusions that this, by itself, will deter criminals. For the government to be serious about fighting crime, especially violent crime, it needs to do three things.

First, it must reverse the almost 20-year trend of fewer criminals brought to court each year to face prosecution. In 2001 the number of prosecutions represented 40 per cent of all police-recorded crimes. By 2017 this was 29 per cent (2). This is pivotal, because it means that the number of crimes that criminals are getting away with is increasing every year. This makes their criminality easier, safer and more rewarding. We should be undermining the criminal’s way of life, not rewarding it.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is largely responsible for this decline and therefore should be abolished. It closes thousands of files presented to it by the police every year. Brian Lawrence, an experienced court lawyer, made it known in his book They Call it Justice that the undeclared purpose of the CPS was, from its inception in the 1980s, to save money and prevent as many criminals as possible from being prosecuted (3). In one year alone, 1992, the CPS threw out no fewer 193,000 cases that the police brought forward for prosecution (4). In 2008 it was reported that of the 693,250 crimes the police had cleared up that year, the CPS intervened to drop or discontinue 287,250, i.e. 41 per cent of them (5).

The effect on police morale of these tactics can only be guessed at. A former police officer with 38 years’ service publicly declared that he despaired of the enormous number of criminals the CPS had allowed to escape any form of justice (6). In the five-year period 2014-2018, the CPS refused to prosecute 345,990 cases presented to it by the police (almost 70,000 per year), under the umbrella excuse that ‘it was not in the public interest to proceed’ (7).

The second thing the government should do is to drop the objective given to the police by Tony Blair to ‘cut crime’. This has encouraged institutionalised manipulation of the crime figures by the police, meaning millions of offences have not been recorded and or ignored. Parliament was shocked, or pretended to be, when in 2013 the House of Commons Public Administration Committee was presented with irrefutable evidence of these practices (8). But this was not the first time these matters had come to notice. The press had been reporting on the problem for years (9) and in 2003 a chief constable had described these procedures as ‘administrative corruption’ in his evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Committee (10).

We should have a Police Force, not a Police Service, and its job must be to deter crime by the energetic investigation, tracking and arresting of as many criminals as possible. Criminals should learn to fear the very sight of a policeman. The police must also record crime numbers accurately, so that the justice system can be properly held to account by the public, who currently are kept in the dark by the publication of obfuscated and sometimes fictitious criminal statistics (11). Keeping the public properly informed about crime numbers is an important part of the fight against lawlessness.

The third change is vital. It is that the government should ensure that sentencing becomes more severe, especially for violent crimes. As things stand, increasing police numbers will be a waste of time if large numbers of the criminals they arrest are not prosecuted, and those that are, receive pseudo-community punishments, or derisory prison sentences (given even for violent crimes). Few things can be so undermining for the police and the public than to see these violent offenders out on the street again after only a few months in jail (and sometimes less), exultant, fearless and undeterred. The average sentence length for all indictable (the most serious) offences is now just 20 months. For violent offences it is 23.7 months – less than two years (12). We must remember that this is the sentence given, not served. With the 50 per cent automatic remission, violent offenders spend on average less than 12 months in prison. Compared with their often brutal crimes, this is farcical.

The US has seen dramatic falls in its crime rates since the introduction of long and sometimes draconian sentences of imprisonment for a second or third conviction for a violent crime (13). California, for example, has halved its violent crime rate since it legislated for a three-strikes sentencing policy, leading to a fall in the demand for new prison places, which confounded its civil servants who thought the reverse would happen (14). Cities as far apart as Los Angeles and New York can claim that they are now much safer places to live in than they were in the late 1980s. Figures published in 2017 for New York showed that the numbers of homicides for that year were a sixth of what they were in the late 1980s (15).

Our government should find the courage to introduce similar policies. It should put aside its concern over accusations by criminal apologists that it would be ‘nasty’, ‘right wing’, ‘authoritarian’ if it radically increased the length of prison terms. Instead, it should demonstrate moral courage and put the safety of the public first, by taking notice of the evidence which shows this would be a sensible policy development. If it did, there would be no reason to believe we would not reap similar rewards as now enjoyed by the American public.

At the same time our government should accept the obvious that lenient sentencing practices have failed to deter crime. The consistently high reconviction rates of offenders on all types of supervision programmes (16), and the failure of all of its rehabilitation programmes (17), have demonstrated, over a period of more than 50 years, that offending is not an expression of a problem for which the offender needs help. If it were we would have solved the crime problem years ago.

The Home Secretary Priti Patel has said that criminals should fear the police. Yes, but they must learn to be terrified by the courts.


(1) -crime-a9052401.html

(2) Ministry of Justice Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to June 2011

Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to annual update to December 2017

(3) They Call It Justice: Brian Lawrence, Book Guild (2002).

(4) CPS Director faces dissent from lawyers: Independent, 12 November 1993

(5) The Public and the Police, Harriet Sergeant, Civitas, 2008

(6) Now justice is a joke, says veteran bobby Daily Express, 11 February 2011

(7) Crown Prosecution Service: Annual Report and Accounts 2012/13

Crown Prosecution Service: Annual Report and Accounts 2014/15

(8) Dr Rodger Patrick (2014) A Tangled Web: Why You Can’t Believe Crime Statistics, Civitas 

We regularly fiddle the crime numbers, admit police: Times, 20 November 2013

(9) Street crime figures ‘fiddled’: Daily Telegraph, 15 September 2002

11million crime left out of the figures: Daily Mail, 2006

Violent crimes are being ignored by the police, says report: Independent, 22 October 2009

Police ‘encouraged to reclassify crimes to keep numbers down’: Metro, 4 April 2011

(10) We regularly fiddle the crime numbers, admit police: Times, 20 November 2013

(11) See for example the Birt Report (2001) which reported that at least 132million indictable crimes alone were committed annually, not the 5million published by the government for that year.

(12) Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to annual update to December 2017 

(13) United States Crime Rates 1960-2015. Compiled from Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reports

It’s Incredible How Much Safer America Has Become Since the 1980s

(14) Tough for Whom? Assessing the Impact of Discretion on California’s Three Strikes Law: Jennifer Walsh, PhD

(15) Crime in the United States, U.S. Department of Justice, federal. Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Service Division

It’s Incredible How Much Safer America Has Become Since the 1980s

London worse for crime than New York: Daily Telegraph, 21 October 2017

(16) See examples such as:

In 1979 reconviction rates of offenders placed under supervision in the community t were 41 per cent, measured over two years; they are now over 56 pepr cent measured over one year.

Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Issue 34/86, Reconviction of those given Probation Orders, published 1986

Ministry of Justice, 2013 Compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis and Prison Statistics, England and Wales, 1999 (published in 2000), which showed that the reconviction rate for all males on probation orders (the majority) was 63 per cent, and for those with 7 or more previous convictions it was 72 per cent. For those supervised on Drug Testing and Treatment Orders, the reconviction rate was over 80 per cent.

HO Bulletin 15/04 Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2003, published December 2004

Home Office Research Findings no.184: The Impact of Drug Treatment and Testing Orders on Offending: 2-year reconviction rates.

(17) Examples of failure rehabilitation programmes (reconviction rates of between 70 and 80 per cent):

Accredited Programmes, NAPO News, Issue 157, March 2004

S. Merrington and S. Stanley, ‘What Works’: Revisiting the Evidence in England and Wales, Probation Journal, 5:1, pp 7-20, 2004

Jail ‘thinking’ courses show you can’t teach an old lag new tricks: Times, 7 August 2003.

Prisoners fail to curb the inner man: Times, 18 November 2003

Release me from this paperwork: Times, 5 August 2003

Home Office Research Findings no 161 (2003). An Evaluation of Cognitive Behavioural Treatment for Prisoners

Community Rehabilitation Companies not having any impact, say inspectors: HM Inspectorate of Prisons, Media Release, July 2017

£3.7 billion flop: Damning verdict on Cameron-era bid to cut crime: Daily Mail, 21 June 2017

Raynor, P & Vanstone, M (1994), STOP Programme for Offenders. Third Interim Evaluation Report, Glamorgan Probation Service (reconviction rate 70 per cent)

Raynor, P & Vanstone, M (1994), Probation Practice. Effectiveness and non-treatment paradigm. British Journal of Social Work, 24, 387-404

Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate, Research Finding no. 81: Motor Projects in England and Wales. An Evaluation by Darren Sugg (1998) (reconviction rate 80 per cent)

(All these reconviction rates must be considered against a background of very low detection rate of approximately 5 per cent, therefore their true re-offending rates will be much higher.)

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Poverty doesn’t cause crime, Mr Mayor. Criminals do

A FEW weeks ago the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, released a report showing how the poorest areas of London are the most likely to see the highest levels of violence, with 74 killings this year alone. Khan described this as a ‘direct link’ between violence and poverty. This was crass, even for a politician. Does he not know the difference between causation and correlation?

The implication we are invited to accept is that poverty is a driver of crime and violence; get rid of poverty and we rid our communities of violent crime.

This ridiculous Left-wing mantra has been doing the rounds for decades and we hear it from all political parties. The persistence of the idea that crime and violence represent some sort of crude reaction to poverty and inequality is all the more remarkable given that serious research and our own history contradicts this view. During the first half of the 20th century millions in Britain lived in abject poverty. The absence of a male breadwinner due to the great loss of life in the First World War, high levels of unemployment during the Great Depression, little or no financial assistance, hunger, poorly constructed and damp housing, restricted access to medical services, overcrowding, no internal sanitation, access to water via one cold tap or a shared pump in a courtyard, all represented the way of life for many communities. Yet in 1926, when hardship for working-class people was beyond anything we could imagine today, the rate for ‘violence against the person crimes’ was 4.39 per 100,000 of the population, a fraction of what it is today at over 1,400. 

It is impossible to be poorer than the Haitians living in Cite Soleil, yet in 2010 they rejected armed criminals who tried en masse to re-establish their old fiefdoms after their break-out from prison following the earthquake. This once again undermines the idea that crime is some kind of primitive revolt against poverty.

It is worth recalling that R A Butler, who was Home Secretary from 1957 to 1962, noted that the marked increase in crime during this period coincided with the ‘most massive social and education reforms for a century’. These years were a phase of distinct economic and social progress. They were years of full employment, higher wages and rising consumption. Well over a million new houses were built and there was a massive movement of the British working classes away from their drab slums into new council houses. In 1961, as Butler pondered these developments and the escalating crime rate which paralleled them, he said, ‘today the link between poverty and crime has been severed’. (1)

Does Sadiq Khan think Butler drew the wrong conclusion?

New Zealand was far less well off in the 1950s than it is now, yet its crime rates then were significantly lower than they are today. Likewise research by Stephen Levitt found that data from the Great Depression, which produced unemployment rates near to 28 per cent in America, failed to confirm the expected connection between poverty and crime. (2)

As far back as 1994, Home Office research found no relationship between unemployment and crime in Britain. (3) A more recent analysis carried out in 2011, based on 27 EU countries (including Britain) found, contrary to what many believed, that the countries with greater degrees of inequality and poverty had less crime than those which were wealthier, with better medical and welfare provision, and more equality. (4)

On what grounds does Khan ignore such findings? If he is indeed aware of them.

Following the riots of 2011 (wrongly presented as being fuelled by poverty and inequality), the then Prime Minister David Cameron launched his ‘Troubled Families’ project. The aim was to help disruptive and ‘damaged families’ raise themselves out of poverty (which compared with circumstances in Britain 80 years ago, none of them have experienced) by helping them find work, and at the same time cut their crime rates, truanting, drug abuse and anti-social behaviour.

After providing planned and consistent help to 20,000 families (approximately 40,000 to 80,000 people) over a period of five years, the project was found to be a lamentable failure. In 2015, the independent consultancy Ecorys reported that despite the expenditure of £1.3billion in taxpayers’ money the scheme had failed to have any effect on the crime and other problems mentioned above. (Can the Mayor of London be unaware of this debacle?) But even though these results gave them the grounds to do so, the government remain fearful of challenging the myth espoused by the pro-criminal lobby that their behaviour was a result of disadvantage (aka poverty) that could be changed by ‘help’.

The link which Sadiq Khan is quick to make between violence and the poorer areas of London, while superficially attractive, is not only misleading but also approximately 250 years out of time. Whilst there is little doubt, for example, that in the 18th century crime for some (but not all) was a matter of survival, no one can claim such conditions exist now. No one is driven to kill because he or she is hungry.

Nevertheless, an analysis of all murders in London for the period 2006 to 2012 showed that the four boroughs with the highest number of murders per 100,000 of their population were among the poorest: Newham, Southwark, Hackney and Lambeth. However it would be wrong to interpret this apparent connection to mean that poverty was the driver for crime and violence. Not all boroughs regarded as poor, for example, had high murder rates. (5)

Another theory is needed. What we know about the background of criminals suggests it is equally if not more valid to interpret this association the other way around. That is: the poorer boroughs tend to have the highest crime rates because they have the greater concentration of criminals, not because their inhabitants are poor. They may also be areas where effective policing has broken down. Those who choose to be violent and commit crime are in many cases the same people who refuse to work at school, are violent, ill-disciplined, demand instant gratification and fail to plan for the future. This is not to say that they do not have access to money – crime and violence brings many of them a good income and their social station can be seen as an indicator of how they choose to live and spend their ill-gotten gains.

The truth is (sometimes even in the case of the psychotically driven violent) that it is the ‘life choices’ criminals make – to be violent, ill-disciplined, take illegal drugs or otherwise demand instant gratification, fail to work at school, resist the conventional 9-5 routine, and fail to plan for the future – that results in them living in the poorer areas. Hence the greater concentration of criminals in these areas, which leads in turn to their being more violence in some of these poorer boroughs.

Sadiq Khan should be mindful that the vast majority of people who grow up in poorer, working-class conditions lead industrious, law-abiding lives. To preach a connection between their less well-off conditions and violence is not only patronising and insulting, it is to deny citizens any moral autonomy or judgement.


(1) Fyvel, T R, The Insecure Offenders, Middlesex, Penguin Books, 1963

(2) Levitt, S D, ‘Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s. Four Factors That Explain the Decline and Six Factors That Do Not’, The Journal of Economic Perspectives 18 (1): 163-190, 2004

(3) Home Office Statistical Findings, Issue 1/94, A Study of the Relationship Between Unemployment and Crime, 1994

(4) Fraser, D, Crime, Poverty and Imprisonment, CIVITAS: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, September, 2011

(5) London Murders (all), 2006-2012, Citizens Report, London Murders, quoted in Fraser, D, Licence to Kill, Britain’s Surrender to Violence 

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Why the liberals are so wrong about soft sentences

Boris Johnson’s welcome ‘urgent review’ and promised U-turn on Rory Stewart’s softer prison sentencing policy has sparked a predictable spate of liberal criticism, led by BBC Home Affairs correspondent Mark Easton, Labour’s Diane Abbott and Francis Crook of the Howard League of Penal Reform. 

Earlier this year on TCW crime expert David Fraser comprehensively debunked this liberal critique. Anyone serious about cutting crime must make prison sentences longer. This article was first published on February 3, 2019.

IT WAS recently announced that Prisons Minister Rory Stewart wants to scrap jail sentences of less than six months in England and Wales. Both he and Justice Secretary David Gauke announced this was their ambition as soon as they took up office some months ago. ‘This is a debate I must win,’ claims Stewart (presumably irrespective of what the public thinks). He also announced that short sentences ‘are long enough to damage you and not long enough to heal you’.

Putting these ideas into practice means they are prepared to ignore the obvious, which is that prison sentences, even of short duration, protect the public from crime while the offender is locked up. If a new health minister similarly ignored the obvious and argued for the use of medicines known to be harmful, he would be removed from his post and probably subjected to a psychiatric examination.

Stewart argues that the public would be safer ‘if we have a good community sentence’ (as opposed to short prison sentences). His language drips with snake oil. The phrase ‘if we had a good community sentence’ suggests he knows that the community supervision of offenders fails to protect us and makes no difference to the offender’s behaviour, but wants to avoid saying so. In fact the threat to public safety from this form of sentencing is now worse than it ever was. In 1979 the reconviction rates of all offenders dealt with in this way was, measured over two years, 50 per cent (1a). In 1990 it was 55 per cent (1b). In 2013 it was 56 per cent (1c) measured over one year. But the failure rates of the majority i.e. males under 25 years, are far worse, reaching more than 80 per cent for those who already have previous convictions, as most do, when the period of community supervision starts (1d).

The 56 per cent reconviction rate computes conservatively to almost a million and a half crimes committed by them each year. Yet in reality this failure rate is far worse, because it is based on just the tiny minority of crimes cleared up (2), so their true re-offending rate is likely to be nearer 100 per cent, which means the numbers of crimes committed by supervised criminals will run, every year, into the millions.

Not only do criminals given community sentences not stop committing crime during their period of supervision, but their reconviction rates go on increasing for years after the sentence has been completed, reaching almost 70 per cent after nine years (3). Thus there is no time when the public is protected from their criminality, be it before, during or after their community sentence has finished. On the other hand, even a short prison sentence will give the public a break from their offending (whether or not the offenders continue to commit crime when released).

Gauke and Stewart are also in denial over the fact that while offending gets worse after a period of supervision, it reduces the longer the prison term served by the offender i.e. 60 per cent for those released from sentences of less than a year, 39 per cent for sentences of 2-4 years, 25 per cent for those of 4-10 years, and 14 per cent for sentences of over 10 years (4). Thus, if Gauke and Stewart are serious about cutting crime, the solution to their concern about short prison sentences is to make them longer, and stop placing persistent offenders under the supervision of the probation service and send them to jail instead.

The ridiculous nature of their objectives is highlighted by the stated aim of making sex and violent crimes the exception to their proposed ban on prison sentences of less than six months. Stewart’s claim that short sentences are ‘too short to heal’ but ‘long enough to damage you’ means that by his reckoning, it’s acceptable to make sex and violent offenders ‘worse’, but not others. The notion that prisons ‘damage’ offenders, or makes them worse, is a threadbare argument. When offenders go to jail they are already highly criminalised, with little new to learn. If they do discover new criminal tactics whilst in prison, they are perfectly free to ignore them.

But prisons are not, never were, nor can ever be, places where offenders are ‘healed’. They are not hospitals or therapy centres. Does Stewart still believe that offenders commit crime because of some overbearing social or financial problem, causing them to behave in ways against their own will? If this were the case we would have solved the crime problem by now, because for the last six decades at least this belief has determined how offenders have been supervised in the community. Yet all forms of support, financial and practical, as well as individual counselling, and programmes aimed at getting the offender to change the way he thinks and behaves, have demonstrably and consistently failed to have any effect on his willingness to commit crime (5a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k).

That Stewart and Gauke are prepared to argue that their homespun philosophy should become law indicates either a stunning degree of ignorance among ministers and officials about the nature of crime and the motivation of criminals, or a brutal callousness in their preparedness to inflict yet more persistent offenders on to a vulnerable public.

In August 2018, Stewart vowed to resign in a year if he failed to reduce drug use and violence in 10 target jails in England. Let’s hope he does not wait that long.


1a. Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Issue 34/86, Reconvictions of Those Given Probation Orders (published 1986)

1b. Home Office, Probation Statistics England and Wales, 1993

1c. Ministry of Justice, 2013 Compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis 

1d. Home Office, Prison Statistics England and Wales, 1999/2000

2. Home Office Research & Statistics Department, Digest 4: Information on the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales, 1999; Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Issue 21/98, The British Crime Survey, England and Wales. (Summarised in D Fraser: A Land Fit For Criminals, An Insider’s View of Crime Punishment and Justice in the UK)

3. Ministry of Justice, Compendium of reoffending statistics and analysis, 2010 

4. GOV.UK Ministry of Justice Proven reoffending statistics quarterly: October 2013 to September to September 2014 / Proven reoffending Tables: October 2012-to September 2014. Table C2a 

5a. Accredited Programmes, NAPO News, Issue 157, March 2004 (failure of cognitive/behavioural programmes)

5b. S Merrington and J Stanley: What Works: Revisiting the Evidence in England and Wales, Probation Journal, 5:1, pp.7-20,2004 (failure of cognitive/behavioural programmes – up to 80 per cent reconviction rates over two years)

5c. ‘Jail thinking courses show you can’t teach an old lag new tricks’, The Times, 7 August 2003 (failure of cognitive/behavioural programmes)

5d. ‘Prisoners fail to curb the inner man’, The Times, 18 November 2003 (failure of cognitive/behavioural programmes)

5e. HO Bulletin 15/04 Offender Management Caseload Statistics 2003, published December 2004  (failure of specialist drug treatment orders, 80 per cent-plus reconviction rates)

5f. Home Office Research Findings no.184: The Impact of Drug Treatment and Testing Orders on Offending: two-year reconviction rate (failure of specialist drug treatment orders, 80 per cent-plus reconviction rates)

5g. Ministry of Justice Proven Re-offending Statistics, Quarterly Bulletin, April 2009-March 2010 England and Wales (failure of Drug Intervention Programmes, DIPs, gives 55 per cent reconviction rate over one year)

5h. Home Office, Probation Statistics England & Wales, 1993 (shows reconvictions of offenders attending Day Centre Programmes, 78 per cent for those under 21, 67 per cent for 21-29-year-olds)

5i. ‘Cameron’s £1billion help for problem families a flop’, Daily Mail, 9 August 2016  (reports the 100 per cent failure of the ‘Troubled Families Project’, instigated by David Cameron following the 2011 riots, to reduce crime)

5j. ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies not having any impact, say inspectors’: HM Inspectorate of Prisons, media release, July 2017 (reports 100 per cent failure of the government’s ‘Payment by Results’ scheme, which involved recruitment of private companies to supervise offenders)

5k. ‘£3.7billion flop: Damning verdict on Cameron-era bid to cut crime’, Daily Mail, 21 June 2017 (reports 100 per cent failure of the government’s ‘Payment by Results’ scheme, which involved recruitment of private companies to supervise offenders)

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