Letter: Punitive public attitudes

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your report of the Independent/NOP survey revealing punitive public attitudes towards crime and the treatment of criminals (30 November) made depressing reading for those of us who believe that Britain's use of imprisonment is counter-productive. However, I wonder if different results would have been found if respondents had been explicitly asked about sentences that involve restitution or reparation?

There is now quite a lot of evidence to suggest that such penalties do enjoy significant public support. This seems to be particularly true when victims of crime are asked about what should happen to 'their' offender. Whereas general questions about crime tend to elicit illiberal responses, the response to more specific questions related to actual events and a range of sentencing options tends to be less punitive.

Nor is this entirely surprising. If people are asked about 'crime', they are likely to focus upon the more dramatic and serious offences reported. Indeed, the photograph which you used to illustrate your report showed a violent assault, although such offences fortunately represent only 5 per cent of all crime.

None of this is to deny that the Prison Reform Trust and other reform groups 'must consider whether they are out of step with the wider population'. But the present state of public opinion must be regarded as a challenge rather than as a constraint upon our work. Charities are crusades, or they are nothing.

Yours faithfully,


Director, Prison Reform Trust

London, N1