The rehabilitation game

How our political class set criminals free and then cover up the consequences

26 January 2013

9:00 AM

26 January 2013

9:00 AM

‘They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work,’ said the Soviet worker in the good old days; the British criminal could nowadays say with equal reason, ‘They pretend to punish us and we pretend to reform.’

Recent statistics show that two thirds of young criminals ordered to wear electronic tags break their court orders almost with impunity. Nothing could better reveal the hall of mirrors that the British criminal justice system long ago became than the response of Keith Vaz, the chairman of the House of Commons all-party Home Affairs Committee, to very similar news last year. ‘The public,’ he said, ‘must be convinced that community sentences are an effective form of punishment.’

In other words, the problem is not how to make community sentences work, but how to create the misleading public impression that they do. This has for decades been the ruling imperative of that great friend to the British criminal, the Home Office (and now the Ministry of Justice). It struggles might and main not to reduce criminality but to reduce the public’s supposedly neurotic fear of crime, and it does so by sowing confusion — confusion with a roseate glow.

Forked-tonguery remains the order of the day among the British political class. Who does not remember Mr Blair’s ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’? In an interview with the Daily Telegraph this month, the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, said that he would like to see longer prison sentences for hardened criminals while also arguing for the use of more electronic tagging, only a matter of five days before he announced the closure of seven prisons as a cost-cutting measure and only a few more days before figures showing the uselessness of electronic tagging were issued from his own department. I’ve known burglars more honest and straightforward than British politicians: who, incidentally, are overwhelmingly the largest single cause of crime in this country.

Let me give a small example of the obfuscatory official methods used to confuse the public. For quite a long time the Home Office recorded the two-year reconviction rate of people given community sentences. Suddenly, and without warning or explanation, it started to publish the three-month ‘reoffending’ rate. Why the change?

First, criminologists say it made genuine comparison almost impossible: were things getting better, worse, or remaining the same? Nevertheless, the impression of improvement was created because the reoffending figure for the shorter period was, naturally enough, lower (10 per cent) than for the longer period (50-plus per cent). Ten per cent doesn’t sound quite so bad.


Second, and more sinister, the new terminology — reoffending rather than reconviction rate — was in effect a deliberate lie. The two rates would be the same if, and only if, the police solved every recorded crime, instead of 28 per cent of such crimes (and a much lower rate of all crimes, since not all are recorded).

But there is an implicit lie even in the reconviction rate. This is because it is calculated in a binary fashion: conviction or no conviction. Thus multiple convictions, either on one or on many occasions, count as one; and here it should be remembered that 30 per cent of offenders convicted of indictable offences (most of whom are probably already under so-called supervision) have 15 or more previous convictions.

Almost everything possible, then, is done to limit the public’s understanding of the scale of reoffending by people on community sentences. It is easy to work out that hundreds of thousands of crimes, possibly even millions, are committed by people serving community sentences (incidentally, a fifth of crimes in Scotland are committed by people already on bail). The true reoffending rate of people on community sentences is probably several hundred per cent. In a way this is encouraging: it suggests that the great majority of crime, even nowadays, is committed by a relatively small proportion of the population, and that with a little honesty, courage and determination, alas the very qualities that our political class entirely lacks, a marked reduction in the rate of crime would be possible. Another fact pointing to the same conclusion is that the vast majority of offending, to judge by the age of prisoners at entry into prison, ceases spontaneously by the age of 39.

Instead of clarity, however, we get smokescreens, for example bogus comparisons and near-suppression of relevant facts. The recidivism rate of criminals sentenced to short terms of imprisonment is often compared with those of people given community sentences. This comparison is bogus. First, the recidivism rate of prisoners is calculated from the date of their release while that of people with community sentences is calculated from the day of their sentence. Next, the great majority of prisoners have already been through the community sentence charade, often many times. A Home Office study once found that most prisoners admitted to 140 crimes in the year before their incarceration. What the public is interested in is not the bogus relative rates of recidivism, but a comparison of the number of crimes similar criminals commit within a certain period. It is obvious that the two-year reoffending rate of a prisoner who spends two years in prison approaches zero (he can offend against other prisoners, of course, and if he is a member of a criminal gang may arrange crimes from inside); but someone on a community sentence of two years is almost certain to commit more than one crime during that period. Recidivism, incidentally, tends to decline with length of prison sentence, a fact that could surprise only intellectuals.

When it comes to electronic tags, it was known perfectly well from the outset that they did not work; despite this, the official decision was taken to use more of them. For example, one Home Office trial undertaken in 1996-7 on 374 criminals demonstrated that 73 per cent were reconvicted within two years. Their reoffending rate, then, must have been astronomical. In other words, the whole programme was expanded in the full and certain knowledge that it did not work. Some 280,000 offenders have been tagged since David Cameron came to power.

Even the most minimal reflection should have been sufficient to realise that there was no reason why it should have worked. Tagging keeps offenders indoors for up to 12 hours, leaving 12 hours in which they can commit crimes. Most criminals are not great travellers; they commit crimes very near where they live. Probation is even worse nonsense, at least for recidivists, as are the vast majority of people on probation.

The British criminal justice system has become an elaborate sham, in which lawyers, private companies, the Home Office and criminals prey in concert on the rest of the population. Here is an example of the frivolity of the system, taken at random from the weekly local newspaper I have in front of me.

A 36-year-old man who had broken with his girlfriend sent her threatening messages, including to destroy all her future relationships, to cut off the head of her cat and post it through the letter-box, and ‘do over’ her father. On two occasions he assaulted her; on the second, he dragged her by her hair into the street, in public, where he got her to the ground, hit her on both sides of the head and kicked her several times in the abdomen. He was stopped only by the intervention of a neighbour.

His lawyer claimed that he was deeply remorseful; that he recognised that his behaviour was ‘inappropriate’; that he did not intend to harm the woman (a therapeutic kicking, then); and that he wanted to learn from the whole experience. The magistrates pretended to believe it and sentenced him — with a probation order — to an ‘Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme’.

The report does not say, but I am sure that he was dragged from the dock screaming, ‘No, not an Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme! Anything but that! I’ll go straight, guv, if only you don’t give me the Integrated!’

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Show comments
  • http://www.facebook.com/curt.lund.7 Curt Lund

    The United States of America is heading down the same path!

    • Louise

      Oh please!

      • Flossie

        Hey, look what the cat dragged in!

        • Louise

          Why are you talking about yourself in the third person? Do you have MPD? (Or DID, as it is now referred too in the pages of the latest DSM) Maybe you could book a consultation with the good doctor. Then he can write an account of your therapeutic interactions right here, in the pages of The Spectator. Ooh, fame at last. Watch out for that erotic transference though.

          Ciao Bella

  • welshdai

    Singapore has capital,corporal punishment and long jail terms and very low crime is the result safety for citizens to go around any time of day or night, community police posts grass roots leaders etc.
    Now take a walk around Tony the phony Blair and his labour stooges LONDONISTAN at night or any other lawless British city at chucking out time?

  • tony dean
  • LordLieutenant

    Always a pleasure to read the thoughts of Dr. Daniels.

    I don’t think anything written here will surprise us, and the closer to the city centre you live, the less surprised you’re likely to be.

    I’ve asked the thoughts of Magistrates, Senior Police Officers, Barristers and can’t for the life of me understand why such wilful blindness is permitted to continue to blight our lives. Why the simple removal of criminal personalities from society for long periods of time isn’t considered.

    Is it a matter of the cost of incarceration £40k pa, (?)

    Is it a lack of empathy for the poorest who’re too scared to leave their homes after dark?

    Is it a lack of energy to do what is right against entrenched interests?

    Is it fear of revenge from the criminals accomplices?

    Do our masters gain gratification from their harmful ‘liberalism’ in the same manner of an overly generous grandparent toward a badly behaved child?

    Scan any comments page or overhear any pub lounge conversation and the answer is the same – Nobody respects the British justice system. Not the police, not the criminals and certainly not the British people. This is a dangerous place to be. After all, if I were to be wronged by a criminal, I’d have to consider whether or not I involved the police or took matters into my own hands.

    Uncivilised? Yes. Un-English even, but then again, my behaviour is and always will be exemplary, so no doubt I’ll be out in time to vote in the next General Election.

    • dalai guevara

      What you state might be part of the equation, but why are you stopping short of covering all the unknowns? You state ‘nobody respects the British justice system’, which might be correct, but fall short of exploring why that appears to be the case.

      Surely, you will admit that rather than just dealing with the ‘classic’ criminal you appear to be referring to, there are an entire set of offences which seem to fall through the net for various reasons.

      What has Leveson taught us about the police, the press and most notably our expatriated CNN chat show host?

      What have the riots taught us with regard to the connection between job cuts announcement to the force and the apathy on display shortly thereafter – even three days after the first ‘incidents’ kicked off?

      What has fast tracking rioters taught us with regard to the time it appears to be taking when dealing with corporate governance issues in the financial services sector?

      Why are various civil servant ‘cock ups’ with regard to PFI contracts, Olympic security arrangements, rail franchise awards and so on dismissed as exactly that – cock ups? Why is this not properly investigated? ‘We did not add inflation’ to First’s rail bid… do you believe that?

      When our justice system appears to display a laissez-fair attitude towards those and many other issues I did not care to list, then indeed your assumption is correct: nobody respects the British justice system.

  • Roy

    The prison inmates are the ones who should be running the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Justice personnel put behind bars.

  • Shorne

    I was a Probation Officer for 30 years, the last 13 working full time in a prison so perhaps the good doctor will regard me slightly more benevolently. My office was a former cell near the entrance to a wing of the prison and hence I would be able to hear the arrival of new prisoners. Frequently they would be greeted by friends (and sometimes relatives) in a manner comparable to the way one might welcome somebody arriving at a hotel or similar.
    Arrangements would be made to try and change cells so as to share with somebody they knew and so on. There would also be discussions regarding the offence that had led to their sentence. I recall once hearing a very familiar face/voice describing his attempts to escape from Police Officers in a car he had stolen. He described the twists, turns, short cuts etc. he had tried and a growing crowd chipped in with suggestions as to what would have been a better course to take.
    Later on I went to a staff room where a prison officer was describing a recent game of golf to group of fellow enthusiasts who played at the same course. Suggestions as to how certain holes could have been better played came thick and fast. The point I am , perhaps clumsily, trying to make is that for a sizeable hardcore of offenders crime is their whole life, it’s their source of income and excitement and their main pastime. Having now taken early retirement I can now say something that I couldn’t say when I was working namely it will always be like this and has always been like this, the first criminal code that we know of having been drawn up in Sumeria 2500-2000 BC.

    • SmithersJones2013

      It doesn’t always have to be like ‘this’ although I agree rehabilitation is not anywhere near as achievable as politicians and the criminal justice industry might suggest. There again given that attitude is driven by the legal profession they are more interested in increasing the number of court cases rather than have their clients kept out of trouble longer…….

      If you lock them up for long enough each time they won’t be able to make much of a living out of it and their stories will get old and outdated. If you make prison an unpleasant place to reside then they might not think of it as a hotel. Do away with a prisoners human rights (all but basic rights that is) and perhaps it might even become a deterrent.

      But hey what do I know. Like you I only worked in the ‘industry’ (for 15 years).

  • Louise

    Does Dr Dalrymple still refuse to acknowledge the part his own specialism: psychiatry played in all of this? I won’t hold my breath for a ‘mea culpa’.

  • venze

    British government has been deceiving the public. Community sentences do not necessarily rehabilitate most criminals or reduce crime rates. Think again, think more carefully. (vzc1943)

  • SmithersJones2013

    The key to this is sentencing policy. In 1991 the Conservative Government completely reworked the sentencing ethos in this country and also increased the amount of remission from 33% to 50%. If one looks at the below paper one will see that from shortly after its implementation (by Ken Clarke surprise surprise) the Prison population grew at double the rate it was growing before (2000 per year on average as opposed to 1000 per year previously.)


    The obvious answer then is to reverse the sentencing changes put through in 1991 and reassess all liberal sentencing policies since.. Like many things including the Governments debt addiction the problems we face today seem to be rooted in a political culture which started during John Major’s government.

  • FF42

    Keith Vaz is entirely correct for any punishment regime when he says it’s important that the public believe it to be effective. The aim is not only to rehabilitate the offender but to seek public retribution as an alternative to private vengeance. It won’t work unless the public believes in it.

    I don’t know the context of Mr Vaz’s remarks but they seem to suggest that public does not believe at all that community sentences are effective.

  • http://twitter.com/Flyttbar Jens Knocke

    And for France seehttp://fluctuat.premiere.fr/Livres/News/Au-caeur-de-la-barbarie-francaise-La-France-Orange-Mecanique-3636910

  • JeromeG

    What a nice post showing how it is in the UK and in whole europe! Thats absolutely ridiculous but you can´t do anything about it. http://www.schufafreier-kredit.at