Cops and Robbers, Channel 4 - TV review: Depressing insight into the lives of serial offenders

This take on the criminal justice system was listless

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The Independent Culture

Jason Stokes, the 27-year-old star of Channel 4 documentary Cops and Robbers, is a bit old for juvenile delinquency, but he seems to have missed that memo. Maybe he was on remand at the time?

"Stokesy" – as the overfamiliar narration called him – had been in and out of custody so many times that he referred to Winson Green prison in Birmingham as his "fourth home" (Brierley Hill police station and Dudley Magistrates Court are his second and third, respectively).

This Channel 4 documentary gave us a sense of the Groundhog Day that is life for a serial offender – only 10 minutes after getting off on a theft charge, Stokesy was back in the cells again on another matter. Not that he let it get him down. There's no honour among thieves, but there is, apparently, a misguided optimism.

Becky, a 31 year-old drug addict and shoplifter, was more pitiable. She committed crime to buy heroin for herself and a boyfriend (He rarely got arrested himself, and was also canny enough not to appear on camera). Becky was now banned from shops across the West Midlands, her mother despaired, her four children are all in care, and she seemed to have very little faith in her own ability to reform. It meant something, she said, that specialist policeman Dave was trying to help her go straight, but after a year, his support seemed to have brought about little change.

Apparently, the makers of this depressing two-part documentary could find only four criminals in total brazen enough to talk about their activities on camera. This small focus group also serves to illustrate the point, however: a few known criminals like Jason and Becky are responsible for an estimated 90 per cent of offences in the UK. That's why Dave and his team leader Clive have chosen to target them: "If you can stop that one individual, you're not talking about 50 crimes, you're not talking about 100 crimes, in their lifetime you're talking about thousands of crimes."

In theory, anyway. In reality, as we saw, repeat offenders ride the merry-go-round of arrests, court dates and prison sentences to no real rehabilitative purpose. Once they're out of prison, the cycle of crime begins all over again.

The title Cops and Robbers implies an energetic game that both parties are invested in, but this take on the criminal justice system was listless. Both the cops and the robbers seemed to have long since stopped caring, and were only wearily going through the motions, for lack of anything else to do.