Leading article: Punishment, populism and a gap in perception

Share
Related Topics

Heavily trailed before its publication, the Cabinet Office review of the criminal justice system met a fate similar to the one that routinely overtakes official crime figures. Its conclusions were sensationalised, "spun" and taken out of context. Thus we were informed that people serving community service sentences would be required to wear brightly coloured tabards identifying them as offenders. High crime areas would be festooned with posters announcing the latest convictions. Community Support Officers would be given the power to exact fines, while a new body would be set up to relieve the overburdened – and over-liberal – Probation Service to make sure that those convicted, but imprisoned, still felt the firm slap of punishment.

Now that Louise Casey's report has actually appeared, we can confirm that all these elements do indeed feature in one form or another. But they are among 32 suggestions, by no means all of which are calculated to appeal to the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade; even fewer will probably see the light of day.

The only measure to which the Government so far appears committed – the Prime Minister advertised his support for it yesterday – is publication on the internet of "crime" maps, to be updated monthly. This information was already available to police; we see no reason why it should not be in the public domain, and many reasons – not least police accountability – why it should. It is unfortunate that it should be the most showy, most illiberal, of Ms Casey's recommendations that drew almost all the attention. But this was only to be predicted, given a government that, even after 11 years, still strives to appear far tougher on crime than on its causes, and the populist media with their insatiable appetite for easy, and punitive, solutions.

But the conundrum the review was designed to address, and many of the problems it identifies are real. There is a wide credibility gap between public perceptions about crime and the facts as reflected in official figures. There are also glaring defects in the police and criminal justice system that could at least be tackled, if not eliminated, relatively quickly. By identifying these – many of them all too familiar to those who have had dealings with the police or the courts, but little appreciated by government – this review has done the unheard majority a big favour.

Take the courts. It is absurd and unacceptable that victims and witnesses should share waiting accommodation with defendants – but it still happens, despite progress in places. Take elderly or ill people who suffer harassment in their neighbourhood and are fearful of going out. Should they not enjoy the same anonymity as a young suspect – for their own protection? And why is it so often left to the police to run activities for young people from existing funds, while local youth services work rigidly nine to five?

What Ms Casey neglects to say is that a good number of the problems her review addresses are of the Government's own making. People distrust official statistics because they have, rightly, learnt to suspect "spin". Well-intentioned members of the public are confused about who to approach when they encounter so-called low-level crime because of the many agencies and go-betweens the Government has created.

The preoccupation with targets is also responsible for much of the red tape that keeps so many of the record number of police officers behind their desks. As for disparities between police forces, ministers have been far too timid to take on this powerful lobby. If they were not aware of public dissatisfaction before, this review leaves them in no doubt.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (C++ / C# / HTML, Java Angular.js) London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A world leading business intellig...

Application Support Analyst-(UNIX, Linux, Financial Services)

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support Analyst-(UNIX...

Application Support Analyst - SQL, UNIX, Linux

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support Analyst - SQL...

Application Support - FIX protocol, UNIX, SQL, Windows, OMS

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support - FIX protoco...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition