British Crime Statistics and the Need for More Prisons

By Fraser, David | Contemporary Review, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

British Crime Statistics and the Need for More Prisons


Fraser, David, Contemporary Review


ALL government statements and statistics about crime are a minefield for the British public. They are more often intended to mislead than inform. The recent announcements by Whitehall about the number of serious offences committed by offenders under supervision of the probation service falls into this category. The released figures report that eighty-three serious offences (such as rape, murder, abduction, etc) have been committed by high risk criminals supervised in the community following their early release from prison. But this figure, as bad as it is, in no way equates with the last Home Office report (Bulletin 18/06) on this subject. This document, in a section called Total Convictions for all Serious Offences by Offenders under the Supervision of the Probation Service shows a rise from 274 in 2001 to more than 450 in 2005. These figures completely dwarf the recent revelations. How can we make sense of this?

The answer, I believe is that the Government is using its usual slight of hand tactics to bury bad news. The rise in the number of these crimes committed by offenders supervised in this way has been so catastrophic that the civil servants have devised a way of giving the public the news in dribs and drabs, so as to prevent us from seeing the total picture. The figure of eighty-three offences refers only to serious crimes committed by those offenders categorized as posing the most serious risk of further harm. These figures do not include the crimes committed by those in the medium risk range or those in the low risk range. These artificial groupings have been constructed by civil servants as a ploy to confuse the public but who should be in no doubt that all offenders pose a serious danger to the public and should never have been released in the first place. It is irrelevant to the victim of a rape or the family of a murdered relative whether the attacker was labelled high, medium or low risk by civil servants. The utter futility of this bureaucratic labelling has been clearly shown in the statement by Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of the probation service union. He reported that 'the vast majority of these very serious offences are actually committed by offenders in the lowest risk category'.

But the deception does not stop there. Even when the other figures for serious offences committed by offenders in the medium and low risk categories are released, it will still not be the complete picture. What the Government has done is to keep very quiet about serious offences committed by offenders on other types of probation supervision, other than those released from prison and supervised by Multi-Agency Public Protection Agency arrangements (MAPPA). When all of these were taken into account the total for 2005/6, as previously stated, reached more than 450. The Government, afraid that the new overall figure for this year will be far higher, is letting out the bad news in small doses.

This fabric of lies and deceptions is an attempt to hide the drastic failure of the prison early-release system to protect the public. We now know that supervising offenders in the community cannot stop them from committing more crime. Too many people have been murdered and/or raped by criminals subject to the best and most intensive surveillance for that myth to survive--almost nine serious offences of this kind are committed by criminals under the supervision of the probation service every week.

If the objection to hanging was based on moral grounds, i.e. that killing is wrong and we should therefore not support a system that executes offenders, then that case is blown out of the water because we have abolished the death penalty, which when used resulted, on average, in 12 hangings a year, and replaced it with one which has ensured the deaths of hundreds of innocent members of the public every year. An uncomfortable fact for those who argued that capital punishment was not a deterrent is that since it was abolished and the parole system was introduced the homicide rate has trebled. …

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