Crime: What the country really thinks: Children's upbringing seen as key to a law-abiding society

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The Independent Online
MOST people believe that teaching children the difference between right and wrong is the most effective way to prevent crime in Britain.

They also believe that more criminals should be sent to harsher prisons in order to stop reoffending.

Those are among the main conclusions of a new public opinion survey on crime, commissioned by Channel 4 and the Independent.

But it is only the first part of the survey: 300 of the people who were questioned in detail on a wide range of crime issues (randomly selected to give a true sample of the British public) then spent a weekend together in Manchester discussing crime. They also questioned panels of experts and politicians, before taking part in a second survey to see how their opinions changed.

The experiment aimed to find out how people's opinions develop when they are given a chance to think about the issues.

The full results, which represent a more penetrating analysis of public opinion than conventional polls, will be published on Monday in the Independent. A two-hour film of the event called Power and the People, made by Granada for Channel 4, will be broadcast at 8pm tomorrow. It reveals a nation that is deeply anxious about crime; people eager for measures to give them more confidence that it can be fought.

Raising the moral climate started off as the most outstandingly popular tactic for tackling crime: teaching children the difference between right from wrong was identified by more than 90 per cent of people as one of the most effective ways of tackling crime, parents spending more time with their children by 85 per cent and firmer discipline in schools by 83 per cent.

Large majorities also started the weekend believing that prisons should be made tougher (71 per cent), and that criminals should be given harsher sentences (82 per cent). More than half (55 per cent) thought the Government should concentrate on punishing rather than reforming criminals - but 44 per cent also started the weekend believing that people were more likely to become hardened criminals if they were sent to prison.

Some of those results show that the public is solidly behind a retributive 'back to basics' approach to tackling crime - but the responses to other questions show that people's views, even at the outset, were more subtle. One third, for example, believed that a confession on its own should not be enough to convict.

Although 77 per cent recognised that drugs were a huge factor in causing crime, only 31 per cent wanted to legalise soft drugs such as cannabis.

However, the full survey shows the politicians will need to dig deeper than simple slogans if they are to satisfy the demand for convincing policies. By the end of the weekend, opinions on a wide range of issues - including the right to silence, juvenile crime, police resources, and crime prevention - had all undergone fascinating change.