A letter from England, Nigel Whiskin, August 6th, 2004
Armed with a hefty financial settlement from the Chancellor’s Public Expenditure Review, Prime Minister Blair and Home Secretary Blunkett have come up with a Five Year Plan intended to:
– Reduce Anti-social Behaviour
– Cut crime by a further 15%
– Put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system
– Stimulate community engagement in tackling neighbourhood crime problems
To achieve these results, Blair and Blunkett propose to recruit an additional 20,000 Police Community Support Officers and Neighbourhood Wardens over the next five years. They want to encourage communities to insist on greater use being made of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, electronic tracking of the 5,000 most prolific offenders and introduce a range of community sentences that not only contain a restorative element – offenders paying back to the victims and communities that they have harmed – but also enforced with much greater vigour. The police are tasked to set-up dedicated neighbourhood teams and to work with local people to deal with those whose behaviour causes serious offence.
No plans to expand the capacity of prisons beyond the present commitment to provide 80,000 places. No plans to increase police officers beyond the present numbers that have increased by almost a third since Labour came to power. No plans to increase investment in crime reduction or community safety.
In brief, it is a five year war on yobs. It is a call to the electorate to support the Government’s tough line on crime; it marks the end of the ‘liberal’ consensus that somehow crime was caused by unemployment and social deprivation; it is a call to the police and civic agencies to use the powers and the resources that they have to deal robustly with community crime problems; it is a call to communities to engage with the problems that they face in their everyday lives and, above all, not to tolerate unacceptable behaviour.
‘Decent law abiding people should not have to put up with abusive and criminal behaviour,’ is the essence of Blair and Blunkett’s message as we in the UK edge towards the next General Election.
Of course it is only too easy to be cynical about Blair and Blunkett’s plans and dismiss them as no more than a mega blast of sound bites for electors, a message that some say panders to middle England’s desire for clean and safe neighbourhoods where nothing is out of place, where no voices are raised and where everyone goes quietly about their daily lives; where wrong doing is punished and where there is above all respect.
Of course, it is too easy to be critical about the Five Year Plan from a criminology perspective. Anti-Social Behaviour Orders have already since their introduction had the perverse consequence of pushing up the numbers of young people receiving custodial sentences. The naming and shaming of offenders works best with those who have something to lose and does not work at all with those who have nothing to lose. More police and their community support officers may offer reassurance to those who are worried about the safety and security of the streets and public transport that they use but will it tackle the problems that trigger fear and unease? Will more law and enforcement tackle the problem of what Prime Minister Blair described as ‘feral’ children causing havoc?
What is quite remarkable so far, a day or do after the debate has started, is that the five year battle plans for the War on Yobs have left the critics struggling to find the contra arguments. Rather it is a case of people being wary of the political spin, the sound bites and eye-catching numbers. There is a certain sense of deja vue about the battle plans but it has to be said that they have struck a certain chord with most people, they resonate with the sentiment of the day!
If Blair and Blunkett’s Plans are aimed at those neighbourhoods where there are very real problems, nasty problems of persistent nuisance, harassment, racism, personalised victimisation and intimidation; incidents that sicken all decent people; where ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ is intolerable and unacceptable, then they deserve whole hearted support.
In a civilised society we all have the right to go about our daily lives without being abused, without being fearful of our property or anxious about our personal safety. And it is all our responsibility to make that happen.
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