Tough on crime … really ?!

Heard it all before ?

The Government is getting tough on crime, especially since the riots … but will it last ?

As has been well publicized some pretty heavy sentences have been handed out as a result of the riots, but call us cynical, but many offenders will probably be quietly released long before the end of their sentence. We simply do not have the space in prisons and nor can we afford as a society to pay for more and more people to be in prison.

But is the government really serious about addressing crime and alternatives to prison ? If the latest news is anything to go by, we think not.

It has been announced that unemployed offenders will have to work a full week of unpaid work, possibly including hard labour, as part of new “tougher” community penalties or they won’t receive their benefits.

One whole week ! This is hardly going to stop a repeat offender from committing a crime, really it seems to us as laughable.

Perhaps more relevant and of greater impact on offenders, although it remains to be seen how civil law will interpret any possession claims bearing in mind the Human Rights Act is the action taken by at least one local authority, Southwark, in the wake of the riots. It has served notice on some tenants charged over recent rioting  warning they could be evicted from their homes if convicted.  We suspect this will probably not lead to evictions but is at least a more realistic way of penalising these people in a way which means something to them.

Civil claims by prisoners

Civil claims relating to prison

With the number of people in prison at a historical high, those of us who do not thankfully have experience of prison and prison life can easily forget that incidents, accidents, court claims and civil law claims do occur in prisons and that notwithstanding their wrongdoing, prisoners do still retain legal rights.

The Freedom Of Information Act regularly throws up some very interesting data and some newly released information in response to a request shows that civil claims relating to prison are common. In particular :-

  • The figure for overall civil claims payouts relating to prison was some £60 million over the last 4 years
  • Last year, approximately 700 prison staff received compensation totalling nearly £7 million for injuries and other civil claims. This was a reduction on previous years
  • 16,000 prisoners have made successful claims in the last 4 years
  • The overall payouts equate to around £40,000.00 per day

Do you think that prisoners should be able to make such claims ? If not, why not ?

Community Service Orders

Get tough on community service

We all saw evidence last night that, in terms of deterrence and young people, the criminal justice system is simply not working.

The astonishing scenes in London last night and elsewhere clearly show that our young people have no respect or fear of authority whatsoever. Schools have virtually no power to discipline young people and our society is in a mess.

Against this context, some somewhat ironic but perhaps prescient news yesterday. The Minister for Prisons and Probation Crispin Blunt said yesterday that :-

  • Community based sentencing is being beefed up so that offenders will have to spend up to 16 hours each day at home, from the current maximum 12 hours curfew per day.
  • Some 24,000 people are being electronically monitored.

This all seems rather academic bearing in mind what occurred last night.

This post sponsored by accident claims, thanks guys.

ASBO’s not working

ASBOS – they don’t seem to work

It certainly doesn’t come as any surprise to me to hear that  ASBO’s don’t seem to be working.

Office for National Statistics figures released this week reveal that nearly 75% of  10-14 year olds breach their Anti-social behaviour orders and many treat them as little more than a joke.

The idea of ASBO’s is understandable. It is not possible to throw a huge number of teenagers in borstal, whether for costs or other consequences. On the other hand, any penalty for serious behaviour affecting many others in a community needs to have teeth.

Is this not ultimately an issue of a a lack of respect for society and for authority … what’s wrong with bringing back some kind of national service or boot camp for these individuals ?

Latest crime statistics

Sometimes there’s little point in adding to or commenting on a great piece of research or an article. this is one such occasion. there is an excellent piece in today’s Daily Telegraph with some excellent and succinct figures. Without further ado, you can find it here. Hope you enjoy.

Community Orders – a soft option ?

Community Orders not being enforced

Prison is an expensive option for some offences and offenders but public opinion is also skeptical about community payback orders, and recent statistics may partly explain this.

It is all very well having a system which penalizes criminal activity with some kind of payback, and in fact many would support this rather than prison, but only if it works and is enforced. It appears the community orders are not being properly enforced based on :-

  • Only just over 50% of offenders given community penalties were actually made to undertake unpaid work in the past 3 years. Why this is the case is unclear, but it doesn’t go down well with victims of crime or deterrence.
  • Between 2008 and 2010 over 360,000 offenders were given community orders on tasks including gardening, removal of graffiti, rubbish collection.
  • The average length of the required activities was 104 hours, generally spread over a year.

What do you think of the above ? Let us know.

Bribery Act 5 years too late ?

Some may well argue and perhaps rightly so that lawbreakers will always be lawbreakers, they don’t check what the law is before they break it.

But, would the hacking scandal have happened if the Bribery Act had been passed at the time the scandal should have been dealt with in 2007 ? Well, on the one hand, there have always been quite stiff penalties for hacking. It is one of those offences where people can easily go to jail on a first offence and will maybe spend a year or more behind bars, so the penalties do have some “teeth” at least.

On the other hand,  some solicitors argue that what the Bribery Act brings to the table, as it were, is the new concept that top management will be vicariously liable for the actions of staff, even if they did not know of the actions, if they have not taken sufficient and ongoing preventative measures. So, in this instance, Rupert Murdoch could potentially have faced jail for the actions of his staff (who knows he still might although I doubt it somehow). When the buck genuinely stops right at the very top, change seems to miraculously happen, failing which there tends to be layers of protection embedded, and we are already seeing Murdoch vociferously blaming the solicitors …… who surely were in something of a conflict of interest situation, instructed by a massive client whose interests would not have been for their lawyers to advise that criminal activity was widespread. Who knows ?

Turning back to the Bribery Act issue, would this have covered the hacking situation ? Well, probably yes, since it already seems clear that payments were made for information and favour, to secure an advantage. And then there’s the issue of hospitality, causing sufficient embarassment for the Met Police Commissioner to contribute to his resignation tonight. Again, a Bribery Act issue.

Finally, many in big business lobbied hard to get the Bribery Act watered down, and it was somewhat… interesting in itself. Maybe I’m just getting paranoid though !

Fraud

Is fraud endemic in our society ?

When we think of crime, we all tend to first conjure up the image of hardcore violent offenders, but of course crime also includes economic crime as well.

there is of course a difference between violent and non-violent offences but a victim of an economic crime can have his/her/their future blighted just as much as with a violent offence. There are many instances where innocent individuals have lost their life savings due to fraud.

What is potentially particularly worrying on a society wide basis is the increasing tendency for individuals to lie or embellish the truth or to think that theft or fraud which doesn’t appear to have an individual victim is somehow ok, or no more than a white lie. However, no crime just as no action generally, comes without consequences.

Some examples of recent widespread fraud which have largely gone unpunished simply because the prevalance is so great is insurance and mortgage fraud. In the former case, there are postcodes in the UK where there appears to be an incredible tendency for there to be clusters of road traffic accidents and whiplash claims made via personal injury lawyers. The insurers know this is clear fraud but very few perpetrators are brought to book and what then happens, as is currently the case, is that insurance premiums for everybody get increased.

In the case of mortgage fraud, it is well known that in the heady days of the property boom in the first decade of this century, with the advent and popularity of self certification mortgages, literally thousands of applicants exaggerated or grossly exaggerated their earnings to obtain mortgages. We all know what the results of this have been, the credit crunch, near financial collapse of western economies and ongoing economic woe for millions.

Then there is of course fraud against the Government, and we all know that some MP’s were at it, and benefits fraud is thought to have been widespread. We then have carousel frauds and such like, let alone employee theft and fraud also being on the increase.

The irony is that econmoic crime only increases when times get tough. People resort to desperate measures when in trouble, in contrast to the sheer greed when times are good and everyone wants a piece of the action. Oh, and I forgot about the City institutions and the whole topic of insider trading, punting of billions like a game of roulette and boiler room fraud. Maybe those are topics for another day.

All in all fraud is no laughing matter and it’s worrying that on a societal level, many think it’s ok to stretch the truth (lying on cv’s is another example where it is thought the tendency to do this has increased massively).

Finally, when suspecting fraud, many now turn to solicitors or corporate investigators for help in dealing with these issues. This is particularly the case as the SFO seems to have had it’s budget due to the austerity measures. And what has caused the austerity measures in the first place !

Should prisoners work ?

Should prisoners work ?

There are many reasons why encouraging or even compelling prisoners to work makes good sense. Arguments include :-

  1. Prisoners should contribute at least something towards the cost of keeping them in prison.
  2. Some money raised by prisoners working could be used to compensate victims.
  3. Work prepares prisoners for useful and productive reintegration back into society, helps to create new skills for them and encourages self respect and discipline

The idea of prisoners working is not a new one, but prison reform is very much on the current political agenda, so the renewed debate is to be welcomed. Some useful work in this regard has been done by Policy Exchange, which is suggesting prisoners should work a full week for a minimum wage lower than the national minimum wage with a proportion of earnings paid into a victim’s fund. Their research also suggests that there is considerable public support for prisoners being compelled to work, with over 70% backing this.

What do you think ?

Reoffending – a key problem which just gets worse

More interesting figures on criminal offences and prison

The annual criminal justice statistics make interesting reading, as always. Without further ado, here are some of the abridged stats, extracted as being of most interest to lawyers and non-lawyers alike :-

  • 101,500 offenders last year were given  immediate custodial sentences
  • The above figure is approximately 8% of all those sentences
  • The British Crime Survey suggests that there were 9,500,000 crimes last year in England and Wales
  • Offenders with more than 15 previous convictions comprise 29% of convictions, nearly double the percentage of a decade ago.

The standout figures from the above clearly relate the repeat offending, indicating either worse problems with society or that prison simply doesn’t work. How many times have we heard the mantra “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”, yet root causes including drug abuse, alcohol problems and mental health, let alone a disenfranchised youth, seem to be getting worse and not better.

Many thanks to solicitors for this post.