June 25, 2006

Tony Blair is a fascist

King Tony is continues to try and govern by headline, with the resultant war on civil liberties, now thinks that summary justice (why does that make me think of death squads? Oh yes) is the way to make the red tops love him. Much of the debate going on is about how he thinks that there should be less of that awkward proof as to whether someone actually did what they are accused of, and once they have been found guilty prison sentencing is apparently too lenient. He is wrong on both counts, but more to the point he is also trying to deal with the problem arse backwards.

The problem is nothing to do with courts and sentencing, it is to do with people committing crime. Once the crime has been committed the system has already failed. The courts and prisons are just there to try and clean up the mess afterwards, but the real solution is to stop the crime happening in the first place.

In the words of Sir Robert Peel:
The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.

There are very strong correlations between certain factors and people committing crime.

One is education, if you don't even have the educational ability to register an order or get the correct change in McDonalds then you are not going to have much in the way of legal career options.
Some 7 million adults in England - one in five adults - if given the alphabetical index to the Yellow Pages, cannot locate the page reference for plumbers. That is an example of functional illiteracy.


60% of people in prison suffer from functional illiteracy and/or innumeracy.

Another know correlation is with the most un-telegenic of all aspects of health care, mental health.
A study undertaken by the Office of National Statistics, for example, found that 7% of sentenced men, 10% of men on remand and 14% of women in both categories suffered from psychotic illness in the previous year as compared to 0.4% of the general adult population. (Fryers, T., Brugha, T. (1998) 'Severe mental illness in prisoners', British Medical Journal, Vol. 317, pp.1025-6). A 1996 study indicated that over 60% of unconvicted male prisoners held on remand were suffering from mental disorder and some of these were judged to have an immediate treatment need that was not being met. (Brooks, D., Taylor, C,. Gunn, J., Maden, A. (1996) ‘Point prevalence of mental disorder in unconvicted male prisoners in England and Wales’, British Medical Journal, Vol.313, pp.1524-7.)
An individuals mental health never going to be helped by being locked up in prison, and not just on people with a preexisting condition.

A better system of education that gives enough options that everybody can be educated to the best of their ability and a health system that does not focus on whatever the health minister of the day thinks will get them the best photo opportunity will therefore provide a better cure to the problem of crime than the bonfire of civil liberties so beloved by Blair. That will help reduce the number of people predisposed to crime, but what of crime itself?

There is one known, tried and tested way of reducing crime. You increase the risk of getting caught by putting more police on the streets. It works with the evidence being not just anecdotal like Henry Porter's piece in the Observer but hard statistical evidence such as by Steven Levitt in Freakonomics that he wrote with Stephen J Dubner. Sir Robert Peel understood this two centuries ago (so much for Blair's 21st century crime requiring 21st century methods), he also understood that the best way to get the most police on the street would be if everybody where the police:
Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
Unfortuantly the ever centralising forces of so many governments, and ever expanding list of uncrimes have broken this link in such a way that may be hard to recover.


Dr Crippen tells us about the current state of mental health provision within the NHS. Being so media unfriendly it could be cut without any public uproar. So Thatcher did, replacing NHS mental health with Care in the Community, where they recieve no care and so end up a blight on the community.


Blogger tomdg said...

This is scary. I think I agree with pretty much everything you've written!

I don't know much about what makes effective police work, mind - a while ago the wisdom was that visible policing was less effective than covert policing, but it may depend on whether you count conviction rates or offending rates - and as you say, it's the latter which are important.

I sort of like the idea of everyone being the police, although of course not following the East German model! The link between the public and the police is hugely important and to be honest I don't know what breaks it.

I guess some communities feel the police are "the enemy"; I suspect the police feel the same way about those communities in some respects, and it's probably hard to separate the cause and effect. I'm thinking particularly here of the rougher working-class areas, not the "ethnic minority communities", although they have their own problems with police and in some cases with accepting the rule of (UK) law.

I guess there's also a kind of resentment that says the police are there to catch other people, not me. When people complain about being prosecuted for breaking the law (e.g. for motoring offences), they are also breaking down the feeling of the police being on our side.

There's also a common feeling now that "I should be able to do whatever I want with impunity as long as I'm not hurting anyone" (to the best of my knowledge and the best of my definition of hurt, of course). I think this actually undermines respect for codified laws and authority and contributes to the breakdown of relationship with the police, since the police are rightly governed by the law (at least on a good day!)

8:22 am  
Blogger chris said...

I mustn't have been writing very clearly since we never agree on anything ;-).

I believe the idea of everybody being the police was that many crimes could be deterred just by the social stigma that anyone committing them would accrue. Not the network of Stasi informants that I'm sure Blair would interpret it as. For a trivial example take motoring offences.

The speeding laws have been in place for longer than the laws on drink driving, and you are much more likely to get caught due to the number of speed cameras that litter the roads. Yet people are much much more careful about drink driving than speeding because there is a social stigma attached to drink driving but none attached to speeding.

The law is a codification of these social stigma, sometimes leading opinion, sometimes following. But it can only work if most people think that the law is justified.

This why there has been a break down in of relationship with the police since many of the laws that they enforce no longer match with society. You are right that there is a common feeling that "I should be able to do whatever I want with impunity as long as I'm not hurting anyone", but the current political class are constantly legislating the opposite of this, constraining what can be done in greater and greater amounts. Get the law to respect society, and society will respect the law.

9:36 pm  
Blogger dearieme said...

But "Care in the Community" policies were introduced all over the USA too, and Mrs T didn't control a single state government. The rot went much deeper, and wider, I presume.

4:04 pm  
Blogger chris said...

Thatcher didn't start Care in the Community here in the UK either (the trend against institutionalisation has been going on since at least the 1950's), but she did accelerate it while not providing a replacement as a way of saving money. Unfortuantly there are some patients that do need to be removed from society. So they still are, just now they are in prisons rather than hospitals where they could get treated.

8:02 am  
Blogger chris said...

And it didn't work in the US either.

7:00 pm  

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