Tough on crime

You guys seem to like polling information, so I thought I’d give you some more. The Centreground poll mentioned a couple of days ago asked voters which qualities they would like to see in a Commissioner, and top of the list was a commitment to being tough on crime. But what does that mean?

Ask Tony Blair and he will tell you it’s about being tough on the causes of crime, by which he means a variety of social factors such as unemployment, deprivation, poor health, etc. Ask someone on the right of politics, like, er, me, and I might also say it’s about being tough on the causes of crime, by which I mean criminals.

But those who chase polls and focus groups will want to know what the public mean by “tough on crime”. So here’s some observations from every copper’s favorite Think-Tanker (if by favourite you mean would-most-like-to-meet-in-an-arresting-capacity) , Policy Exchange’s Blair Gibbs, who recently tweeted a series of observations from one of their YouGov polls this February, which you might otherwise have missed because the report was about the “geography of political opinion”, rather than specifically being focussed on crime.

He saidIn our @YouGov poll in Feb, public agreed 3-to-1: “Criminals shld be given longer sentences, even if that means we have to build more jails

andSupport was strongest amongst older people & those most likely to be victims – poorer people & those in social housing: ” and included a link to the Northern Lights part of the Policy Exchange website.

ThenThe focus groups in Birmingham & Manchester found “a near universal view that both the criminal justice system & our society were too soft“.”

AndParticipants felt for the #police – “They can’t do anything” in the face of general decline in morals/civility, authority & a rights culture

Does that provide any clues? Can any political party claim to embody that attitude at the moment?

There seems to be a feeling in some quarters that such an approach is “populist” and that the political class should know better than to pander to these feelings, but maybe it goes beyond pandering. What politician doesn’t claim to be tough on crime? Will the public be able to tell the difference between those candidates for whom tough talk is a matter of convenience around election time, and those for whom it is a matter of conviction?


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11 Responses to Tough on crime

  1. David Woods says:

    You’re surely not advocating increasing the prison population… people need to be brought out of poverty, and services need to be there to help and support them. Look to America and the incarceration rate amongst the disadvantaged. Desperate people will do desperate things. Current policies are making people more desperate.

    • samchapman says:

      There may be other things to do with prisons. They are costly, colleges of crime, and not very effective at rehabilitation. However, they do protect the community from crime while criminals are in them, and they have the capacity to deter offending. I agree with the members of the public that the YouGov poll found. We are as a country too soft on criminals, and I hope that Police and Crime Commissioners become a force for toughening up the approach.

  2. David Woods says:

    Reblogged this on ThinnerBlueLine and commented:
    You’re surely not advocating increasing the prison population… people need to be brought out of poverty, and services need to be there to help and support them. Look to America and the incarceration rate amongst the disadvantaged. Desperate people will do desperate things. Current policies are making people more desperate.

  3. David Woods says:

    Have a look to America work for a better more productive, Greater Britain not an incarcerated one

    • samchapman says:

      I’ve had a look, and for a start I cannot agree that drug offences are victimless crimes.

  4. David Woods says:

    But there are some interesting questions raised…. I spent 30 years in drug enforcement and education and know only too well that there are victims, but drug users need effective treatment , Addiction is an illness and the first line of dealing with an illness must be treatment not incarceration..

    There are many valuable examples of alternatives to prison including prolific and priority offender schemes to name only one. You entry on this blog seems to suggest that locking up offenders should be the main aim… surely the main aim is reduction of offending and improving safety and behaviour change through a variety of measures, not a one goal plan.

    • samchapman says:

      I want to reduce to a minimum the total impact of crime. In the past I have been involved in many diversionary schemes, and in PPO and integrated offender management initiatives. I believe however that a tougher line on crime helps such initiatives by providing incentive to engage and resolve drug issues. When local criminals realised that if they didn’t treat our drugs programmes seriously they would be caught, convicted and sentenced, we made some improvements in crime rates. We have to change the risk assessment for the criminal. If the likelihood of being punished and the impact of punishment are too low then they will commit crime. Tougher punishments are a vital part in this.

      • Graham Nelson says:

        I’m amazed that given your claims of experience as a practitioner you don’t see this. Criminals are not deterred from committing crime by tougher sentences – Texas kills hundreds of criminals but its homicide rate dwarfs Britain’s.

        Blair’s famous quote was not aimed at making prison conditions harder (although the prison population soared under Labour), but on improving the social conditions which caused crime – which fell and fell under Labour. Crime is climbing again as the social conditions are worsening.

        Luckily, PCCs won’t have that level of control over CJ outcomes. And all the polling I’ve read suggests that the #1 concern for people voting for PCCs will be ASB, not being tougher on offenders. Remember that even when crime fell under Labour, no-one believed it, so attention switched to “signal crimes” – those visible indicators of disorder – hence neighbourhood policing and partnership working.

        Of course the public want tougher sentences for offenders; they don’t understand the drivers of crime.That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Henrik Ibsen said, “The majority is never right” and the sign of a good politician is one who does the right thing, not the popular one. If you are serious about reducing crime you will invest in a holistic, partnership-based approach to offender management. If you are serious about being elected you will invest in harder sentencing.

        And that is why we shouldn’t politicise policing.

      • samchapman says:

        Graham, You should do stand up – you are wasted on here.
        “tougher sentences don’t deter” – and you pick capital punishment, which at least is effective for those who undergo it. Whatever else you may say about capital punishment, it’s not known for a high rate of reoffending.
        The public don’t understand and ‘i know better’ – the cry of every dictator throughout history. Funny that the public don’t understand what they would find motivating or not in terms of good and bad behaviour.
        “the majority is never right” – sorry, The majority can be wrong, but that doesn’t mean they always are.
        But my favourite is the implication that if I have worked in criminal justice I have to agree with you and not the public. You have neatly encapsulated the attitude that lurks within the criminal justice system that PCCs must challenge.

  5. samchapman says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:

    This article responds to some interest in a poll saying the public want Police and Crime Commissioners who are tough on crime.

  6. Graham Nelson says:

    No mention of community sentences or RJ, which has the best results of both victim satisfaction and reoffending? Do you even know what it is?

    There’s one of two things going on here. Either you know full well “what works”, and are ignoring evidence in favour of a populist approach; or you genuinely believe in what you say.

    Either way, it’s extremely dangerous for the people of Lancashire (of whom I am one), and possibly fatal for your election hopes.

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