"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, June 23, 2006

Brits Worried Over Lenience on Crime

In an excellent and highly informative article in Tech Central Station, former British Crown Prosecution Service executive Peter C. Glover points out that a steady stream of high-profile cases in which serious offenders have received minimal sentences has created a rising sense of fear of violent crime among the English public. As happened in abundance in the 1970s in the United States as crime rates rose, this public concern in Britain is reflected in a film currently in production:

The minimum five-year sentence for convicted pedophile Craig Sweeney has deepened the public's crisis of confidence in the British criminal justice system -- and stirred the government into pledging a 'sentencing review'. But while the mother of Sweeney's three-year-old victim spoke of wanting to "throttle the judge" who sentenced Sweeney, it is actually the liberalized system itself which may need "throttling". That's the point soon to be made by an explosive new film currently in production entitled Outlaw.

Nick Love's film, starring Sean Bean and Bob Hoskins, is designed to show the devastating consequences of a British justice system soft on criminals. The film focuses on five vigilantes who, "betrayed by their government and let down by the police", take matters into their own hands, meting out summary justice with baseball bats, knives and fists. What Charles Bronson's Death Wish character brought to cheering audiences in the 1970s, Love's Outlaw appears destined to repeat for contemporary audiences.

Outlaw is more than just another film for Love, who is himself a reformed teenage criminal and heroin user who claims to have been saved by the "short sharp shock" Tory policy of the 1980s. "I'm the living proof, if you like, that taking a hardline approach to young criminals works," says Love.

Love began writing the screenplay two years ago. At the time he suspected the British public were already beginning to lose patience with the government's liberalizing of criminal policies. He could not have realized how soon that patience might run out.

Love is an example of an individual reforming from a life of crime, but his redemption came through paying a hard price for his crime, he notes, not by immersion in therapeutic treatments by a system more concerned about offenders than for victims and the community. As Glover puts it,

Love's film is set to further highlight how a society soft on criminals suffers when it makes the basic mistake of deeming pragmatic liberalizing policies - revealing a greater concern for the offender than for the victim and for the individual than for the community - a higher priority than justice.

Love's film, Glover's article, and the situation in Britain all point out that true justice has real, positive, practical consequences. As Glover notes,

Nick Love's Outlaw is not, as some will undoubtedly claim, a prescription for vigilantism on the streets. Rather, it is a stark warning of the perhaps inevitable consequences when a state fails to perform its central function: the protection of society and its law-abiding citizenry.

As Love's movie lead puts it, "If you want to spend the rest of your life being raped and bullied . . . and letting the pedophiles wander the playgrounds while you smile mutely and pay your taxes, then walk out the door." I suspect there won't be too many "walking out" on Outlaw however, unless it is because of its explicit content.

Two decades ago I wrote a long article for Chronicles magazine in which I pointed out that vigilante narratives have a long tradition and that they tend to arise when crime rates are rising and government authorities do not appear to be doing enough about stemming the increase. As such, I pointed out, they are a useful barometer of public attitudes. I also pointed out that they are not calls for vigilante violence but warnings about how the public can see itself as forced to step in when their government fails to do its elemtary duty of keeping the public peace.

Vigilante films, although still occasionally made these days—the recent remake of Walking Tall, for example, or some of the comic-book films such as The Punisher and the Spider-Man series—are not nearly so popular as they were in the 1970s. That's a good sign for the United States. Outlaw is indicative of the current uneasiness regarding crime in Great Britian. Whether it will spur a lasting trend in the UK cinema is up to the government and will depend entirely on its resolve in ensuring that criminals pay for their crimes.

Glover's article includes much more detail on and examples of some of the decisions that have disturbed the British public, and I strongly recommend that you read the full article, especially before commenting on the issue if you are so inclined.

16 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Apparently, compassion can be the enemy of justice.

It's enough to make a liberal's head explode.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Apparently, compassion can be the enemy of justice.

Not really, it's just that what the British judicial system has been dishing out is not real compassion. Look at the roots of the word: passio: I suffer. Passio cum: I suffer with. The British courts have abandoned compassion towards these offenders by refusing to impose the needed corrections. They have dehumanized them by decreeing that they are dogs who should not be kicked, rather than men who can grow to be honorable and trustworthy. They have forced others to suffer instead of doing the hard thing themselves. It's the opposite of compassion, as well as the abdication of justice.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thanks for the correction, Kathy. Etymologies are exquisitely instructive. I should have gone directly to the OED.

I've been musing on the notion of "compassion" lately, especially in its very modern and sloppy usage as being at the top of liberalism's list of moral virtues.

"I" suffer, with pain that isn't even my own. How morally admirable.

The "I," of course, remains at the center of the solipsistic (read modern liberal) equation. Not the "thou," who, as you incisively (and compassionately) point out, might not be just the victims or future victims but the perpetrators themselves, too, all the true beneficiaries of justice.

"I" has nothing to do with it, really. "Suffer" is the operative part. Cui malo?

James Elliott said...

El dolor, el dolor... no puede supartarlo.

Tlaloc said...

"Apparently, compassion can be the enemy of justice."

There are exceptions to every rule. There are some who do better with a smack to the head rather than a pat on the back. They are however the minority.

I'm confused how Karnick can interprete our system a success when it is formulated upon an ever exploding prison population. Since such a system is inherently unstable all we're doing is piling the gunpowder really really high before throwing in the match.

James Elliott said...

As of 2001, 2.7% of the adult population in the United States had spent time in federal or state prison. We are on track to have 1 on every 15 adults spend time incarcerated.

An estimated 66% of released prisoners will commit another offense within three years. Sex offenders are less likely than any other type of offender to recidivate (43% to 68%) for any offense, though their numbers are still unacceptably high and they are four times more likely to commit the same offense again.

The number one growth area of arrests is drug use. Half of all those incarcerated by 2001 were under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the commission of their crime. Three out of four convicted individuals were addicted to alcohol or drugs at the time of the offense. 31% of all inmates had a parent or guardian who was addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Incarceration is not an effective treatment for long-term drug use cessation; rehabilitation is.

Based on these trends, 2% of the adult population in this country is likely to continuously break the law. Punishment seems to work dandy, yessirree!

Source.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Three out of four convicted individuals were addicted to alcohol or drugs at the time of the offense.

Cause or effect?

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Based on these trends, 2% of the adult population in this country is likely to continuously break the law. Punishment seems to work dandy, yessirree!

Apparently it does for 98% of the population.

James Elliott said...

Last "argument" first:

"Apparently it does for 98% of the population."

When you're talking about that 2% meaning approximately six million people, doesn't that stop this kind of specious thinking dead in its tracks? Or are you literally arguing that most people need to be deterred from criminal acts?

Let's put it another way: Out of nine million offenders, six million will recidivate. If that were a business plan, the investors would pull out in the amount of time it took to click their mouse to dump their stock on eTrade. You're talking about a 66% loss on investment. Where's that business sense you're so keen on?

"Cause or effect?"

So, you are asking "Did they commit crimes because they were on drugs?" or "Are they on drugs because their criminals?" It's a false dichotomy. It'd be great if things were so black and white. They're not. But since drugs impair the functioning of frontal lobes, where higher reasoning and impulse control are, and activate regions like the amygdala, where emotional and stimulus-response are, one might think that perhaps the addiction wasn't helping matters in the first place, no?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Just axin', James.

The question is habituation. Recall the article:

Outlaw is more than just another film for Love, who is himself a reformed teenage criminal and heroin user who claims to have been saved by the "short sharp shock" Tory policy of the 1980s. "I'm the living proof, if you like, that taking a hardline approach to young criminals works," says Love.

We, in our, um, compassion, wait until the last moment to incarcerate. By then, we have lost the best chance to rehabilitate.

The reason liberal California's Three Strikes Law has not been toppled as yet is because it works. By the time 3 strikes arrives (almost always accompanied by geometrically more arrests), the criminal is for statistical purposes unrehabilitable.

The question presented by Mr. Karnick is not simply incarceration rates vs. crime rates.

James Elliott said...

"The reason liberal California's Three Strikes Law has not been toppled as yet is because it works."

The reason it hasn't been toppled is because it is a politically popular punitive measure. The fact that a third strike can be bouncing a check of sufficient size should be ample evidence that the system is beyond screwed up.

"We, in our, um, compassion, wait until the last moment to incarcerate. By then, we have lost the best chance to rehabilitate."

Nonsense. You need only look in your own backyard, Los Angeles, and how it treats its juvenile offenders to see how wrong your statement is. We most emphatically do not wait for the last moment to incarcerate. To say we do is to rewrite reality in favor of ideology.

Rehabilitation is, at this point in this state, only an option for non-violent drug users. Which is great, in so far as it goes. Rehabilitation, you must understand, isn't an either/or proposition: You can have incarceration along with vocational and educational training. You cannot say that rehabilitation in this country doesn't work because it's never been tried consistently.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

When you're talking about that 2% meaning approximately six million people, doesn't that stop this kind of specious thinking dead in its tracks?

Not really. In this case the perfect is the enemy of the good.

You are correct in many of your arguments and presentation of facts here James. However, you'll have to convince me that "rehabilitation" will reduce that 2% number at a reasonable cost.

James Elliott said...

"Not really."

CLA, you've basically admitted that the only reason you don't commit heinous crimes is because you think you might go to jail. ("Apparently it does for 98% of the population."

That's funny.

On to your question: For example, we know that an incarcerated individual who takes vocational training and is assisted with job-placement is three times less likely to commit a crime again. Okay, so that cuts your recidivist population down to a third. Factor in saved legal costs from not having to prosecute these fellows, saved law enforcement costs from not having to catch them, and saved costs on future incarceration costs (which are considerable). We also know that people who participate in adult education and vocational training are less likely to need public assistance (more savings!) and will have better jobs, resulting in higher tax-income.

Education and vocational training costs about as much, per-person, as high-school. Let's round that off to about $10,000 per person annually, to ensure a good education. That's a not-inconsiderable front-end investment. But think about it entrepreunerially. Why do we invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building nuclear power plants that take years before they go online? Because we want that cheap, clean energy at the end of the process. The savings will show up. Like that power plant, it's a good investment that'll save and free up dollars for other projects down the line.

Look. Liberalism. Does it make sense now?

James Elliott said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
James Elliott said...

Sorry, Blogger wigged out.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

CLA, you've basically admitted that the only reason you don't commit heinous crimes is because you think you might go to jail. ("Apparently it does for 98% of the population."

That's funny.


Just sarcasm ... I'm glad you thought it was funny (ahem).