I refer to a recent column by Mary Riddell in the Daily Telegraph (Our crumbling prison system is a disgrace to modern democracy), in which she is labouring under an important misapprehension when she says “crime is falling like a stone”. What happened is that the Blair Government did not like the fact that crime was going up every year, and did not wish to build any more jails, so in the early 2000s they stopped using the police figures for crime, and instead employed an organisation called the British Crime Survey (BCS). This is an organisation based in the Midlands, which surveys about 40,000 homes in the country, and on the basis of their information (including crimes never reported), come up with an estimate of crimes for the year. People might be excused for laughing at this absurd procedure, but this is what our government has been doing ever since. In its first year of operation, BCS came up with a figure of 11 million crimes, as opposed to the police figure of around 5 million. Again, this should have been the cause of much hilarity, but it had a point. By starting from an absurdly high figure, the BCS was able to reduce its number every year, and give people the fraudulent impression that crime was falling. People like Miss Riddell. The fact is that Britain still leads Europe in most crimes per capita, and is second only to Germany in total crimes.
Miss Riddell is quite right that our present system is a disgrace, but that is because our government has refused to accept that crime is growing, and refuses to build any more prisons. The result is a disaster. Miss Riddell obviously takes the view that the point of prison is to rehabilitate the prisoners. This is, I am afraid, a fantasy. The point of prisons is for one reason, and one reason only, and that is to protect innocent people. In order to do that, people who are dangerous to society must be locked up. The vast majority of crimes are committed by professional criminals, who have no interest in rehabilitation. There is not the slightest solid evidence that “rehabilitation” is possible, but it is certainly not the purpose of prison. The only things criminals are afraid of, by their own admission, are long prison sentences. Miss Riddell is also somewhat naive about Community Justice, which she calls “simpler and cheaper”, but perhaps she is not aware that half of the people put on community service never turn up in court.
I was naive enough to think that when the Conservatives came in, they would change the system, but, of course, they have not. They continue to rely on the BCS and continue not to build any more prisons.