Who are these ‘criminals’ we want to feel ‘terror’?

Ms Patel, the new Home Secretary. has, in one interview, knocked the criminal justice system back decades.

Her comments in the interview with the Daily Mail, later reported on the BBC news website are dangerous, offensive and show a complete lack of understanding of the strides made by hundreds of dedicated CJS professionals in the ‘rehabilitative culture’ supported by previous ministers.

Aside from the debacle the constantly changing government officials is creating within the sector.  Aside from the ripple effect of every change in policy has on professionals, grass root organisations, families and the ‘criminals’ she refers to.  Aside from the unrest and disquiet chopping about policies is having on the staff working in the CJS.  Aside from all the thousands of pounds of public money thrown at every new incentive, every change in policy. Let us take a look at a few key issues with this latest insulting line from a government who are no longer serving the people it was elected to serve:

1. The UK has been trying to ‘punish’ our way out of the growing crime issue for decades.  And it hasn’t worked.  More people going to prison.  Antiquated, inhumane prison conditions haven’t been dealt with.  Millions of pounds spent on bigger prisons, scanners, dogs, razor wire to stop drugs going into prisons.  None of it has worked.  It just shoots the prices of drugs up inside and creates an industry for people to make more money.  Drugs in prison increased by 23% in 2018.  My latest intel is that a 2oz packet of tobacco (no longer allowed for prisoners) goes for £200 on the inside. More people are being recalled to prison for minor crimes; there is a mental health crisis in prison that is not being dealt with.

2. The last two changes in policy saw millions of pounds spent on the ‘rehabilitative culture’ and ‘the ten prison project’.  Both schemes grounded in public safety AND prisoner rehabilitation.  Building links with the community and families of people incarcerated; providing opportunities for prisoners to change and grow and become valuable members of society.  This is not being ‘soft’ this is being ‘real’.  Do we want people to reoffend or do we want people to realise how they can thrive and take care of their children and communities?

3. Who are these ‘criminals’ Ms Patel has lumped together?  This statement alone should be cause for deep concern!  When you lump a population of people together as if they are all the same you are in danger of creating a ‘them and us divide’.  Think of Nazi Germany; think of Apartheid; Think of slavery; Think of pre feminist movement.  Every person in society has at some time been lumped into a indiscriminate population based on one character or one act.  Ms Patel knows what she is doing here, it is an age old trick to have us all think of ‘criminals’ as being ‘others’ so that we can distance ourselves from the fact that the ‘criminals’ are human beings often in worse circumstances than ours.  Yes there are people who have committed murder or rape or worse.  And our courts and our law, has a process for dealing with these acts with the appropriate punishments.  But for a moment let us take a look at the other ‘criminals’ Ms Patel wants to feel ‘terror’.

– Homeless people – the amount of women who are homeless and sent to prison has doubled since 2015.  Often these are vulnerable women who need help and support not prison sentences. Often these people are undernourished and in poor mental health.  Often they are being abused.

– People released with no accommodation – a regular occurrence that people are released with no mental health support and no accommodation, and of course, no job.  Some would rather get recalled than stay on the streets.  Some try to make things work out but the knock backs become too much and by winter desperation seeps in and they turn again to petty crime to feed themselves.

– People with addictions or mental health problems.  Recent MoJ statistics state that 29% of offenders have mental health problems; a third misuse drugs and 38% misuse alcohol.  RH David Guake was putting policies in place to ‘rehabilitate and treat’ these issues and to look at ‘tackling the root cause of criminal behaviour’, realising that short sentences is not the road to addressing the issues for the person or for the system.

– Young people – young people in disadvantaged circumstances.  A report by Beyond Youth Custody recently quoted that 91% of young violent offenders have suffered trauma.  This is often not dealt with and guess what?  These youngsters grow up to be adults and the criminal behaviour never stops.  A majority of the men who are ‘repeat offenders’ have suffered early childhood trauma.

– And last but not least: Members of Parliament – people like Chris Davies who recently pleaded guilty to fraud.  Or corrupt prison officers who smuggle drugs in or have relationships with inmates. Does Ms Patel want them to ‘feel terror’?

The UK has a long way to go before we become the rehabilitative culture that is needed to address the issues and causes of crime and to help the people that need help and make society a safer place.  But there have been many good moves in the last few years towards those goals.  More bobbies on the street is an excellent idea, but not if they are trained to ‘make people feel terror’ the mindset that goes with this is one of a bully rather than of someone who is there to ‘protect and serve’.  More prison officers in prisons is an excellent idea if they are giving the tools and the freedom to create relationships and deal with the issues that occur and not just trained to ‘lock em up’.  And if they, the officers, are given the correct emotional and psychological support as well as training conducive to rehabilitation.

In her own words in 2011, when discussing her views on the death penalty Ms Patel stated “I do actually think when we have a criminal justice system that continuously fails in this country and where we have seen murderers, rapists and people who have committed the most abhorrent crimes in society, go into prison and then are released from prison to go out into the community to then re-offend and do the types of crime they have committed again and again.” 

Correct Ms Patel.  So let us change that.  Not with harder punishment and terror but with continuing some of the excellent schemes put in place by your predecessors, by the hard working police and prison officer professionals and by the every diligent third sector and grass roots organisations.  Let us change our attitudes to ‘groups’ of individuals and start to create a culture where change happens through rehabilitation and mutual contribution not discrimination and stigma.  Let us be the tolerant and compassionate nation we have always been.  Let us treat our vulnerable or abused members of society with the help that can create healing.  Let us make society a safe place not create rhetoric that scares and alienates.  Let us create harmony and peace.  Let us “be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi).