It’s Criminal: Why We Need Justice Reform | Sarah Stook

The criminal justice system, in the words of many a Brit, is in omnishambles.

Our reoffending rate is at a high, with an average of 51%. This number is highest for homeless ex prisoners- 66.6% and lowest for those in settled accommodation at 42.8%. 62% of prisons are overcrowded. Knife crime is at an all time high.

The news is awash with rising crime figures, from the knife crime in national papers to violent burglaries in the local rag. Any comment section will show how people think we’ve become too soft with criminals and that we should bring back hanging. Though the latter comment tends to come from generally conservative older people, the point that people are angry is still there for everyone to see.

Many in the Conservative Party have been thrilled with the idea of Priti Patel as Home Secretary. Her tough stance and words have received praise, though it’s too early for Patel to actually do anything. Many on the left are cautious, but have shown some receptiveness to policies such as stop and search.

The Tories are supposed to be the party of law and order, the ones voters trust when it comes to protecting them from criminals. That reputation has waned as law breaking seems to be more commonplace. We do not know if it is more common, but the increase in media allows a larger exposure to the news that therefore increases the dissatisfaction in people. People are tired of hearing that people are being questioned by the police for minor issues, whereas they are only given a crime number when they are burgled. Nobody trusts any party these days.

What can we do? Well, here’s a list of suggestions. They’re by no means concrete, but these are factors that we need to consider if we want our criminal justice system to work effectively. We don’t want people living in fear; we want them to be able to confidently look to the police and courts for the justice we deserve.


Increase the number of police and investment

The Tories have got a bashing for austerity with policing, hence why nobody really trusts them anymore. The simple solution is increasing the number of police. A new policy has come in, forcing all new recruits to have degrees. This is simply stupid- a degree doesn’t make you smarter. It reduces the job pool, discriminates against non-academic candidates and simply does not increase the quality of policing.

Focus on keeping them on the beat, especially in high crime areas such as city centres. Make police approachable- ensure everyone knows they won’t mess around, but encourage confidence- especially in children. A larger police force means more talent, as well as hopefully faster response times. We cannot just focus on manpower- ensure proper equipment and transport as well. The tragic deaths of police officers have shown that they can be vulnerable, which means that they should be given proper protection.

Ensure that a fair wage is given. Though public sector pay can be controversial, we have to understand that we can’t give public servants such low pay. On top of this, we need to ensure that police get mental health checks, considering the job strain they get. Support isn’t just money, but a network that shows the police we care.


Encourage reporting of sex crimes

The Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that a whopping 83% of sexual offences are not reported by the victim.  The prosecution rate for rape was at a five year low, with only 37% cases resulting in charges. Now we must factor in false confessions as well, but that is still a shocking number.

1 in 4 women will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime, with that number being 1 in 6 for men. 1 in 3 women will be raped and 1 in 71 men will. Imagine you know 24 women and 24 men- 6 of those women could be sexual assault victims, as could 4 of those men. This isn’t necessarily something we can do without society’s help. Women dressed a certain way or acting flirtatiously can be seen as ‘asking for it.’ Male victims are mocked. Men are the only predators and women are the only victims, or so some think.

What the most disturbing issue is a law that defines rape in our country. Women cannot rape men under UK law, even if they penetrate him without his consent. There is no law against this- women cannot be rapists at all, only men. That one law is something we can do to change things, to inspire confidence in reporting for both men and women.

We can also ensure strict sentencing for perpetrators of sexual assault, especially against vulnerable people such as children and the disabled. Reading the stories of the sexual grooming gangs in Rotherham and other cities shows how many get away with small sentences. Encouraging police to look into grooming gangs should be an absolute priority, especially with the ignorance it has been afforded and the fact children are involved. Sentences cannot be light, because the perverted invasion of a person’s body is an evil we cannot comprehend.

Improving services for victims is also ideal. Victims should know where to go if they need help, both before and after reporting the crime. Those who have undergone that trauma will often face mental challenges such as PTSD, making counselling an absolute priority. Taking the stand can take a toll, which is why we need to make sure the victims are supported every step of the way.


Reoffending rates

The introduction gave statistics for reoffending rates. Interestingly, it is higher for those who served shorter sentences than for long ones. Papers often talk about people with a catalogue of convictions shoplifting or attacking someone in the street. It is clear that prison has become a revolving door.

It may sound a little controversial, but ensuring prisoners come out with extra knowledge or a skill is something that can help them arrive back into society safely. Many prisons offer programmes such as cooking, simple ones that allow them to transfer skills.

The rates also showed that homeless ex prisoners are more likely to reoffend, which shows that housing can be a significant factor. It seems that stability is something that is important for offenders, something that isn’t always best left to government. Not all of them, however, will have a network to fall back on.

We don’t want to reward criminals after release, but re offending costs time and resources for the taxpayers. No one is advocating for mass rehabilitation, but not every prisoner deserves to be shunned from society. Prisoner needs to be punished, but they need to be prepared for post prison life.


Sentencing discrepancies

Men get longer sentences than women for the same crime. A 2015 Ministry of Justice report showed that men were 35% more likely to be imprisoned for shoplifting, 267% more likely for violence against a person and 362% for drug offences.

Ethnic minorities are also more likely to be imprisoned for certain offences than white people. A Ministry of Justice study has showed that young black offenders get longer sentences for violence against a person, theft and possession of a weapon.

Mandating sentences are not easy, considering crimes can happen in various circumstances and have additional factors. Still, we cannot send out a message that you will be treated more or less harshly due to your gender or ethnicity. We may subconsciously feel more sympathy for certain offenders, but that isn’t the job of those in the judiciary.

Drug use

If you’re found in possession of cannabis, you can face up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine. In 2004, cannabis was lowered to Class C but then increased to Class B give years later. The drug takes up around 65% of drug offences in the UK.

There is a concern with ethnicity regarding drug offences- blacks are 9 times more likely to get a custodial sentence for drugs than whites. Blacks were also arrested more times for cannabis than Class A and other Class B drugs combined, whilst whites were the opposite.

Advocating for full drug legalisation is not a popular position, unless you’re somehow involved in the British libertarian movement. The belief in cannabis legalisation is growing in the UK, with over half of people in various polls supporting it. When we look at how those caught possessing drugs, especially ethnic minorities, we can also see how they get unfairly high sentences compared to arguably more serious sentences.

The most major concern should be Class A drugs. Cocaine is a wide spread drug around the upper classes, but is often ignored in law enforcement. These drugs are the ones that come from cartels and involve incredible risks for youths in county lines, the latter being a huge problem within the country. Another problem are drugs with heavy hallucinogenic properties such as PCP and spice, something that contributes to violent criminals.

Knife crime

Not a day goes by without the news of another person stabbed on the streets of London. Victims are often young black men, often teenagers, victims of gangs, rivalries or even mistaken identities. Though it mainly seems a London phenomenon, it has spread across the country.  Young people carry knives simply because they want to look scary or to defend themselves, knowing that the other person would have it as well.

Knife crime has gone up massively, especially in the capital. Nobody seems to have a magic cure. Some believe in increasing things like youth centres and after school programmes. Curfews have been suggested, as well as longer schooling hours. Scott Mann, MP for North Cornwall, was ridiculed after suggesting GPS trackers on knives (seriously).  Another approach is stop and search, supremely controversial for its apparent racial profiling but popular amongst voters. The more conservative approach is about family- they believe the breakdown of kinship has allowed degeneracy. Many hold the belief that the end of stop and search under current Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan as the reason that knife crime has come up.

The maximum penalty for carrying a knife, for adults, is four years.  A strict implantation of this policy is something that could be ideal. Many non for profits and former gang members work on programmes that reach out to at risk youth. It is not the government’s job to coddle everyone, but it’s clear that some intervention can work.


Overcrowding in prisons

Prisons need reforming. There is a shortage of prison guards in the country and it’s no wonder why- low pay, bad conditions and constant risks. Apart from making sure the guards are safe, we must rebuild our crumbling institutions. Some money should go towards prison infrastructure, increasing the size of our current prisons and building new ones.

We also need to look at sentencing, especially non violent crimes. Those who have taken a life or raped someone need to be locked up for longer than they already are. Non violent drug offenders, for example, should face non-custodial sentences. There needs to be more structure in custodial sentences, hence why improving and building prisons is essential.


We’ve established that crime in the UK isn’t going away. If the right, the Tories especially, want to prove that they are still in favour of law and order, than they must not be afraid to take risks. Throwing money at the problem won’t make it all go away, which is why we need reform. We need to look at socioeconomic factors, but also existing problems such as reoffending and overcrowding.

Let’s reform things. Being the Home Secretary is usually a cursed job, so it’s not going to be easy for Priti Patel and her team. We want criminals to be scared and we want victims to face justice. Black teenage boys shouldn’t be scared walking down London streets. Rape victims should be able to come forward without repercussions.

It’s time to change. The way things are going, it’s criminal.

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