Why is it that on a daily basis we seem to hear of outlandish crimes, and equally outlandish sentences handed out by our courts? Why does criminal activity seem to thrive, and why does our judiciary seem more concerned about criminals’ rights than the well-being of society?
These questions are asked in a recent article by English commentator Theodore Dalrymple. Writing in the City Journal (Summer 2006), he tackles British government policy which leaves the population defenceless against crime (“Real Crime, Fake Justice”). The bulk of the problem is this:
“An unholy alliance between politicians and bureaucrats who want to keep prison costs to a minimum, and liberal intellectuals who pretend to see in crime a natural and understandable response to social injustice, which it would be a further injustice to punish, has engendered a prolonged and so far unfinished experiment in leniency that has debased the quality of life of millions of people, especially the poor.”
Dalrymple is rightly concerned about the ridiculous leniency of the British criminal-justice system. And given how similar the situation is here in Australia, so should we.
The heart of this essay centres on a new book which describes in harrowing detail the shortcomings of the British system. The book, A Land Fit for Criminals, by David Fraser, documents the ways in which justice is denied in Britain today. Fraser was a probation officer for over 25 years, and knows first-hand the many shortcomings of how crime and criminals are dealt with.
Says Dalrymple, Fraser discovered “that the bureaucrats who ran the system, and their political masters, did not care about this failure, at least from the point of view of its impact on public safety; careerist to the core, they were only concerned that the public should not become aware of the catastrophe. To this end, they indulged in obfuscation, statistical legerdemain, and outright lies in order to prevent the calamity that public knowledge of the truth would represent for them and their careers.”
Bureaucrats seeking to justify their own existence is always a problematic scenario. But when the bureaucrats in question are meant to be protecting citizens from crime, but are not, then it is really problematic.
“Fraser demonstrates the unscrupulous lengths to which both bureaucrats and governments have gone to disguise from the public the effect of their policies and decisions, carried out with an almost sadistic indifference to the welfare of common people.”
Continues Dalrymple, “He shows that liberal intellectuals and their bureaucratic allies have left no stone unturned to ensure that the law-abiding should be left as defenseless as possible against the predations of criminals, from the emasculation of the police to the devising of punishments that do not punish and the propagation of sophistry by experts to mislead and confuse the public about what is happening in society, confusion rendering the public helpless in the face of the experimentation perpetrated upon it.”
A number of problems exist. Around half of all crimes that come to their attention are not even recorded by police. And the police are urged by authorities to rely on cautions: a mere verbal warning. And soft sentencing by soft judges compounds the problem: “When a judge sentences a criminal to three years’ imprisonment, he knows perfectly well (as does the press that reports it) that in the vast majority of cases the criminal in question will serve 18 months at the very most, because he is entitled automatically, as of right, to a suspension of half his sentence. Moreover, under a scheme of early release, increasingly used, prisoners serve considerably less than half their sentence.”
Then there is the matter of T.I.C.s. These are crimes ‘taken into consideration’. “This practice may be in the interests of both the criminal and the police, but not in those of the long-suffering public. The court will sentence the criminal to further prison terms that run concurrently, not consecutively, to that imposed for the index offense: in other words, he will in effect serve the same sentence for 50 burglaries as for one burglary, and he can never again face charges for the 49 burglaries that have been ‘taken into consideration.’ Meanwhile, the police can preen themselves that they have ‘solved’ 50 crimes for the price of one.”
A leftwing philosophy of crime and justice underlies these problems: “In their effort to prove the liberal orthodoxy that prison does not work, criminologists, government officials, and journalists have routinely used the lower reconviction rates of those sentenced to probation and other forms of noncustodial punishment (the word ‘punishment’ in these circumstances being used very loosely) than those imprisoned. But if the aim is to protect the law-abiding, a comparison of reconviction rates of those imprisoned and those put on probation is irrelevant. What counts is the re-offending rate – a point so obvious that it is shameful that Fraser should have not only to make it but to hammer it home repeatedly, for the politicians, academics, and journalistic hangers-on have completely obscured it.”
Dalrymple, following Fraser, shows how the high rate of crime committed by those on probation is a major scandal: “By definition, a man in prison can commit no crimes (except against fellow prisoners and prison staff). But what of those out in the world on probation? Of 1,000 male criminals on probation, Fraser makes clear, about 600 will be reconvicted at least once within the two years that the Home Office follows them up for statistical purposes. The rate of detection in Britain of all crimes being about 5 percent, those 1,000 criminals will actually have committed not 600, but at least 12,000 crimes (assuming them to have been averagely competent criminals chased by averagely incompetent police).”
He continues: “Even this is not quite all. Since there are, in fact, about 150,000 people on probation in Britain, it means that at least 1.8 million crimes – more than an eighth of the nation’s total – must be committed annually by people on probation, within the very purview of the criminal-justice system, or very shortly after they have been on probation. While some of these crimes might be ‘victimless,’ or at least impersonal, research has shown that these criminals inflict untold misery upon the British population: misery that they would not have been able to inflict had they been in prison for a year instead of on probation.”
A faulty understanding of humanity and society is the main reason for the disastrous social policies in Great Britain: “According to Fraser, at the heart of the British idiocy is the condescending and totally unrealistic idea – which, however, provides employment opportunities for armies of apparatchiks, as well as being psychologically gratifying – that burglars, thieves, and robbers are not conscious malefactors who calculate their chances of getting away with it, but people in the grip of something rather like a mental disease, whose thoughts, feelings, and decision-making processes need to be restructured. The whole criminal-justice system ought therefore to act in a therapeutic or medical, rather than a punitive and deterrent, fashion. Burglars do not know, poor things, that householders are upset by housebreaking, and so we must educate and inform them on this point; and we must also seek to persuade them of something that all their experience so far has taught them to be false, namely that crime does not pay.”
Perhaps as scandalous is the fact that Fraser’s book was rejected by no less than 60 publishers before it was finally accepted. This tells us that our intellectual elites are equally out of touch with ordinary people, caught as they are in the tentacles of Political Correctness: “So great was the pressure of the orthodoxy now weighing on the minds of the British intelligentsia that Fraser might as well have gone to Mecca and said that there is no God and that Mohammed was not His prophet.”
Thus both the PC nature of our ruling elites and the mess our criminal justice system is in testify to a culture in deep decline. The “book’s publishing history demonstrates how close we have come to an almost totalitarian uniformity of the sayable, imposed informally by right-thinking people in the name of humanity, but in utter disregard for the truth and the reality of their fellow citizens’ lives. Better that they, the right-thinking, should feel pleased with their own rectitude and broadmindedness, than that millions should be freed of their fear of robbery and violence, as in crime-ridden, pre-Giuliani New York.”
Much of the Western world is plagued by these sorts of problems. Thankfully we have a few sober minds acting as a light in the gathering gloom. For those who enjoy the clear thinking of Dalrymple, I refer to his latest collection of essays which I have recently reviewed on this site.