Fear of Brexit disorder fuels Tories’ tough talking on crime

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The idea that yet another prison-building programme, and tougher sentencing, will reduce victimisation and increase public protection is a fallacy (Tories unveil law and order policy blitz amid election speculation, 12 August). In 1983, Leon Brittan instigated the biggest prison-building programme of the 20th century, alongside a tougher sentencing regime. It failed. In 1995, Michael Howard declared that “prison works”. He was wrong. There are no demonstrable relationships between prison numbers and recorded crime rates. This “blitz” will not solve the conventional crime problem. Nor will it deal with corporate criminality, income tax evasion, environmental pollution or deaths at work. The cultures of immunity and impunity that allow the rich and powerful to engage in routine criminal activity will remain. The changes will do little, if anything, to reduce the rampant levels of violence against women, nor far-right extremism, and nor will they introduce desperately needed structures of democratic accountability into the criminal justice system. But they will likely exacerbate the dramatic levels of violence in British prisons, where there are almost two self-inflicted deaths a week. Given the crisis in the criminal justice system, the hypocrisy of this headline-grabbing stunt is disgraceful.
Joe Sim Professor of criminology, Liverpool John Moores University, Steve Tombs Professor of criminology, The Open University

• It is not surprising to see the Tories resurrecting “law and order” to deflect from other troubles. However, it may be advisable to look at those troubles, in particular Brexit, as a major reason why these tougher measures are being proposed. A variety of official government statistics, police recorded information, occupational surveys in the NHS and any casual viewing of mainstream and social media reveal a sharp rise in negative and violent behaviour since the 2016 vote. Homicides are up from 570 in 2015-16 to 726 in 2017-18. Hate crime incidents increased from 62,518 to 80,392 over the same period. These figures are the highest since recording began in 2011-12. Knife killings are the highest recorded since statistics were first collected in 1946. Racist incidents against Metropolitan police officers rose from 428 in 2014-15 to 667 in 2016-17. There were 26,000 assaults on police in 2017-18. An NHS staff survey found 15% of employees had been assaulted by patients, their families and the public. The same survey revealed up to 75,000 assaults nationally in 2016-17.

The media is increasingly showing attacks on paramedics and on police officers being attacked (and filmed) when attending incidents. Behaviour in the House of Commons has reached an all-time low and news reporters seem only interested in provoking rows and shouting. I would suggest that Brexit is as much a public protection issue as the sentences served by certain offenders. Fortunately, serious sexual and violent offenders remain relatively scarce. A sharp decline in standards of civility and the active promotion of a climate of disrespect and hate threatens our social fabric far more.
Dr Mike Nash
Emeritus professor of criminology, University of Portsmouth

• Your editorial (Stop and search won’t stop violent crime. We need to address the root causes, 12 August) quite rightly observes that Boris Johnson “has reverted to a familiar and failed Conservative playbook of ‘hard on crime, hard on criminals’ rhetoric”. The proposals to extend stop and search and increase prison places and police numbers all appear to be part of Boris Johnson’s positioning prior to a likely early election. Any moves towards an evidence-based “public health” approach to knife crime have clearly been ditched. There is one aspect of this, though, that you miss.

The PM’s announcement eased restrictions on the use of section 60 powers across all forces in England and Wales. Knife crime is not endemic across England and Wales. The idea that this is a response to knife crime therefore is not plausible. This retooling of the state is in anticipation of resistance to Johnson’s future agenda. As we saw in the Thatcher years, a putative response to a panic about a rise in crime can cloak a rearming of the repressive machinery of the state for use against anyone who resists. When Priti Patel says she wants offenders to feel terror, what she means is that all those who will be written out of any future Tory settlement of the issues of the day should feel terror.

This is a government committed to a course of action – a no-deal Brexit, which will make the poorest and most exploited poorer still. It is being packaged as a reclaiming of “freedom”. Once the nationalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric results in a brave new world where the NHS is flogged off to US insurance companies, unemployment rises, food prices go up and wages fall, Johnson will need the “terror” of the state as his ultimate defence. The idea he cares, or ever has cared, about the causes of crime is nonsense. As mayor of London, Johnson didn’t open new youth centres. He wasted £320,000 on water cannon. Oppression is his first instinct.
Nick Moss

• The only fear likely to be generated by the government’s stop-and-search policies is the fear justifiably felt by young black people up and down the country that they will be repeatedly harassed by the police when going about their lawful activities on the streets. The evidence consistently shows that well over 90% of those subject to “suspicion-less” stops are found to be entirely innocent. A better example of institutional racism would be hard to find.
Lee Bridges
Emeritus professor, School of Law, University of Warwick

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