The GOS makes no apology for having lifted most of this page from an excellent article by Richard Woods in this week's Sunday Times. He hopes Richard Woods won't mind. To be honest, this issue is so important that it needs airing as widely as possible. A little plagiarism doesn't seem very important …
About one million people a year are fined for filing their tax returns late. In the last two years, 40,000 were fined even though they'd done their returns on time. If you don't recycle your waste properly you can be fined up to £2,500. Recently the Kent police issued a teenager with an £80 penalty notice for saying "fuck". A 10-year-old was prosecuted for calling his friend "Bin Laden" in the playground - the judge told the CPS to go away and think again, more credit to him (but the teachers' unions have spoken out in favour of the prosecution).
In London CCTV that was installed to catch criminals is now being used to fine people for double-parking, even when they are stopping only briefly to pick up a friend and aren't causing any danger or obstruction. Almost every week someone invades the GOS sitting-room by threatening him on the television with what will happen if he doesn't renew his television licence.
Tony Bliar claimed that he intended to be "tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime". In fact, he has done the opposite. A new book, A Land Fit for Criminals by David Fraser claims that successive governments have talked tough on crime while acting soft, and that the public has been hoodwinked over the true nature of government policy on crime and punishment. And Fraser should know - he spent 26 years working in the probation and prison services.
He says the reality is that criminals convicted of dreadful offences often face nothing tougher than probation, fines or community service. For instance, a Scottish paratrooper battered a 19-year-old girl so badly when she refused to have sex with him, that she spent four days in hospital. He was fined £1,200 and walked free. Financier John Monckton was murdered by a criminal released early on probation. Four out of the six gang-members who raped, tortured and murdered Mary-Ann Lenaghan were at liberty on probation.
There's one law for criminals, and another for motorists. In 1951 there were 536,000 cases of summary action (ranging from written warnings to court proceedings) for motoring offences. Since then the number of vehicles on the road has risen by seven times. The number of legal actions has risen by 25 times - in 1991 it was 8.3 million cases, and in 2004 it was 13.5 million.
Partly this is because of improved technology - since 1996 over 6,000 cameras have been installed, and unlike policemen they do not exercise discretion or take circumstances into account. Local councils are now using their own parking "attendants" - often private contractors looking for profit - and parking offences have soared from 3.7 million in 1997 to 7.6 million in 2004.
Common sense and any contact with the real world have gone out of the window. A London businessman, John Conneely, parked his Mitsubishi with one wheel on the pavement. By the time he went to the compound to reclaim his £11,000 car, Haringey Council had crushed it. "Rules are rules," they said. I suppose John should console himself with the thought that at least he wasn't actually in the car at the time. Mark my words, it'll happen sooner or later. Just don't ever leave your kids or the dog in the car when you pop in to a shop!
The reasons are obvious. Motorists (and don't forget, that's almost all of us) are a cash cow to be milked. Criminals in prison, however, cost money. Fraser says "When I joined the probation service in the 1960s the policy was to target for probation the people who were at the beginning of their criminal careers. The purpose was to divert them from crime, and it made sense. In the 1970s all that changed. The new policy was to divert offenders from prison - to save money."
For years successive governments have led the public to believe that probation and community service work and, at the same time, that Britain already jails more offenders than most countries. None of it is true, says Fraser. "It's one of the biggest cons," he said. "They don't want the public to know, and it's the public paying the price."
Home Office statistics reveal that, while it is true that Britain has more people in prison than most other European countries, when compared to the size of our population and the number of crimes committed, the picture is very different. Spain, for instance, has 46 prisoners for every 1,000 crimes committed. The number of crimes per 100,000 of the population is low, at 2,470.
In Britain we have only 12.1 criminals in jail for every 1,000 crimes, but we have a massive crime rate with 10,608 crimes for every 100,000 population. It is plain that locking criminals up works very well in Spain. Only Sweden does worse that Great Britain.
The government is quick to claim that we are jailing a higher proportion of criminals today than in the past. They say that in 1991, for instance, only 37% of convicted burglars were imprisoned, while in 2001 the figure was 60%. But these figures are meaningless when you know that in 1950 more than 5% of all offences resulted in custody, while by 1990 that figure had fallen to 1% (when your enforcement rate is so abysmal, up is the only way it could go, obviously).
Yet still the government continues to bleat that prison doesn't work, though common sense dictates that it has to work. If a burglar is in prison for five years, that's five years when he isn't burgling our houses. If that's not a result, what is? The Home Office recently advised police to caution, rather than prosecute, numerous first-time offenders including those admitting some types of assault and theft (though not, presumably, 10-year-old boys mouthing off in the playground).
There is no such leeway for law-abiding citizens however. Bob Lloyd, boss of a small construction company, committed the heinous crime of parking outside his house. Though he parked legally because he knew that a previous restriction had been lifted, he still received three fines and had to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to get the evidence that he was innocent.
So the message is pretty clear, the GOS thinks. Commit burglary, rape or assault in the reasonable knowledge that you'll probably get off quite lightly, and that if your victim fights back you can sue him or her for damages. Park your car in the street, exceed the speed limit, smoke a cigarette in the wrong place, put the wrong sort of rubbish in the wrong sort of bin or forget your tax return and you're a social pariah to be pursued with the full might of the law.
The GOS says: Thanks, Richard Woods and David Fraser. Keep telling it like it is. Not that anyone'll listen.
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
This site created and maintained by PlainSite