Boris Johnson has this week pledged to reduce crime in Britain via a series of reforms to the criminal justice system. As with the commencement of any new administration, the latest Conservative arrangement has, in quick succession, shared the ambitions of this Government with the public. In a somewhat counterintuitive move, Boris bids to reduce the number of offenders by increasing the prison population through 10,000 new prison places.
The Conservative government has made reducing crime a main priority. Home Secretary, Priti Patel, believes that the key to tackling crime is a police force that inflicts ‘terror’. Fear is, in this cabinet’s view, the key deterrent to crime. Thus, amongst the promises made for justice reform, the Prime Minister has also declared that 20,000 new police officers are needed across Britain. Further to this, the police’s stop and search powers, despite their everlasting controversy, will be extended. This is a move which seeks to combat the ever increasing knife crime epidemic in London. No commitment to improving the conditions of stop and search, specifically the racial bias that encompasses the strategy, has been made.
In addition to the investment into crime prevention on the outside, Boris Johnson is also concerned with preventing criminal activity behind bars. To this end, £100 million pounds will be invested in boosting prison security. The development of an airport-style system seems to be the Prime Minister’s vision. The purpose of such investments is, according to Boris, to ensure that prisons are not ‘factories for making bad people worse’.
The very essence of what is wrong with these reforms lies in the above quoted statement. The Conservative government is approaching crime in Britain and the prison system with the assumption that every person who breaks the law (and gets caught), is a bad person. Such an assumption, and one’s agreement or disagreement with this, obviously alludes to one’s moral philosophical views. For my part, I maintain that it is ignorant and extremely privileged to determine that everyone who goes to prison is necessarily a bad person.
Currently in England and Wales there are a total of 82,676 prisoners. Between 2017-2018 more than 37,000 people were sent to prison to serve sentences of less than a year; and, 4/5 of these prisoners had committed non-violent crimes. Figures show that 2/3 from this group are guaranteed to reoffend. From such statistics it seems logical to conclude that an increase of prisoners in this country by 10,000 places will affect and even target those who have committed non-violent and somewhat ‘petty’ crimes. As a result of this, we will have an increased number of people in prison serving sentences of less than a year and therefore an increased number of reoffenders.
Aside from the financial implications of this hypothesis, those extra 10,000 prisoners will be another 10,000 people who, after serving their sentence, will find it more difficult to remain legitimate in making ends meat than before their convictions. Being ‘free’ after prison is, I imagine, an extremely different experience from being ‘free’ before you are labelled and perceived as a ‘criminal’ or ex-convict.
There is no visible attempt by the Conservative government in these recent pledges to focus on and tackle the causes of crime which result in shorter sentences. The prison population tells a story of the socio-economic problems in Britain. This trend is ignored by the Government. Youth services continue to to be neglected, ethnic minorities and the working class continue to feel marginalised, and the opportunity for people to better themselves is slim. The Prime Minister can make pledges to strengthen the police force and make prisons safer, but what is going to be done to stop crime being seen as a viable solution to poverty?