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April 13, 2006

Criminal ideologues: A Land Fit for Criminals - David Fraser

Posted by Blair Gibbs

A Land Fit for Criminals: An Insider's View of Crime, Punishment and Justice in the UK
by David Fraser
Pp. 458. Lewes: Book Guild Publishing
Hardback, 17.99

Not all major policy positions taken by governments are explained. Some are never explained even when they impact on the life of voters every day. Practical motivations remain undisclosed and some philosophies are never openly argued for they just preside, out of public view and unchallenged, shaping the consensus and altering the policy decisions of successive Ministers. This is what David Fraser argues has happened in the Home Office over the last thirty years. An ideology hostile to prison has taken root, progressively warping successive Government's response to rising crime, and in its complacency, directly contributing to it.

The author argues that if we want to make the streets of Britain safe in the long term, the everyday victims of crime tens of millions each year must ultimately look to organise themselves and lobby for change; appealing over the heads of the unrepresentative "experts" to the ineffective politicians who until now have rarely taken crime as seriously as the ordinary citizens their complacent policies have let down.

A Land Fit for Criminals is a comprehensive analysis of what has happened to law and order in Britain over the last few decades. The advantage of Fraser's book over similar work by Peter Hitchens is his first hand experience (he worked as a probation officer for 26 years), and his use of statistics many from official sources (though some are now quite dated). The author argues that conventional approaches to cutting crime catching the criminals and locking them up not only works, but more worryingly, barely happens in Britain anymore.

The "criminal justice elite" as Fraser labels them, which have resisted this conventional approach and undermined the institutions that support it include most probationers, criminologists and Home Office civil servants in place in their new Marsham Street offices, as well as growing numbers of senior policemen, magistrates and judges. They repeatedly declare that there are thousands of people in prison who shouldn't be there and the way to tackle overcrowding is to free up space by letting criminals out early or not sending them there in the first place. But on all levels deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation Fraser shows that prison cuts crime. The reason this argument is rarely heard, and certainly not from the prison reform lobby, is because the "experts" regard a rising prison population as a sign of society's failure and so can rarely find a good thing to say about it.

Furthermore, the Home Office has simply refused to make the pro-prison argument for years because ultimately, it doesn't believe it. Instead, its dogmatic enthusiasm for alternatives to prison, which it claims reduce offending (backed up by dodgy statistics), allows it to callously and routinely shrug off the thousands of parole board failures each year like the recent murder of the Chelsea banker John Monckton which are the inevitable consequence of a broken system infected by a cultural disdain for prison.

The result of this anti-prison mentality and increased use of non-custodial sentences has been thirty years of rising crime and failed responses. The burgeoning criminal fraternity has repeatedly tested our resolve, and found it wanting. And just as any economist will tell you, if bad behaviour is rewarded, you'll get more of it. Low detection rates, falling numbers of convictions and weak punishments have effectively "rewarded" crime.

The main thrust of this book is an exercise in ideological demolition. The self-serving motivation of the criminal justice elite is exposed and ridiculed. As is the underlying ideology that has fed lies to the public day in and day out and has managed to dissuade most politicians from standing up for the victims of crime. The exception was Michael Howard, who while he was Home Secretary did his best (toughening sentences and expanding the prison estate), but even he was thwarted in the end when the Treasury decided (mistakenly) that prison was too expensive. Fraser dismisses such concerns. Even with the tougher sentencing laws put in place by the last Conservative Government, we are still routinely imprisoning (when our inefficient police can catch them) only the most prolific and violent offenders, and these people cost a fortune. On a range of estimates, the total cost of crime is about 60 billion a year. Equivalent, if you like, to the cost of the entire schools budget. Our 139 prisons cost us a little over 2.7 billion. In other words, even for fiscal conservatives, prison is a bargain.

A Land Fit for Criminals shows that we run great risks if we think, despite all the evidence, that we can have a low prison population, while we still have a high crime rate, and not expect public safety to be jeopardised. Fraser argues that the only imperative in criminal justice policy is public safety, and that only prison can guarantee this. Much evidence suggests that when it is allowed to, prison works, and with expansion and more investment in Britain it can be made to work better. What doesn't work, is a criminal justice system that attempts to replace prison with other forms of community punishment, solely on the back of ideological motives or misplaced sentimentalism.

Blair Gibbs is the Crime Research Officer at the independent think tank Reform in London (www.reform.co.uk). He is currently conducting a research project on urban crime rates and prison-based rehabilitation schemes in conjunction with the Royal Society of Arts.


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I worked as a probaton officer for four years in the late 90s and I am reading ths book at present. I have to say that when a PO I would have ridiculed such suggestions. However I eventually became disillusioned with the work due to its lack of success. I now having left the service, following probation by working as a child protection social worker, feel that David Fraser is correct in what I have read so far. The "prison doesn't work" lobby is strong and is incorrect yet informs government policy as does the cost of prison and the statsitical failure of a rising prison poulation. Remember prison cells have television due to human rights arguments, its not as onerous as people believe. He also proposes that human rights legisaltion has become perverted to such a degree that the offender has more chance of gaining pre eminence in proceedings, such as sueing an employer for not offering altrernative jobs despite being convicted for rape as the book cites.
I feel that the people who helped make this country a decent place to live i.e. the older people should feel able to go out, not remain terrified at home by feral gangs of children/young people.
Cautions for rape are a ridiculous concept, tagging is a joke to most people on a community rehabiliatation order, most alternatives to custody don't seem to work. I would like to see some effective ones developed rather than immediate custodial sentencing but struggle to see with the current capacity to enforce them little alternative. Perhaps we could explore confinement to some of the islands around our coast, with a requirement to grow their own food might be be a possibility for say multiple convition paedophiles, rapists and violent offneders.No doubt a human rights lawyer is rubbing their hands just at the thought of that. Whether you think prison works or not it acts a respite to society from the offenders activities and crime is rising despite the governments BS.

Posted by: Michael Cleverly at April 25, 2006 11:53 AM
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Anyone who is familiar with Britain's recent history with its gun control laws as it relates to violent crime in their society, should not be surprised by the revelations by "A Land Fit for Criminals".
As early as 1971 Cambridge University released "Firearms Control" by Colin Greenwood. The study demonstrated that there was no correlation between gun laws and violent crime. Early in the past century when the crime rate was very low, gun laws did not exist. The study did show that social and cultural mores affect crime rates. In 2002 the King's College of London released its study "Illegal Firearms in the UK" verifying the same.
So, I issue a challenge to anyone to log onto any British paper and do a search on gun violence. It's sad what you'll find.

Posted by: Randall at August 21, 2006 06:33 PM
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It is depressing to read articles discussing probation in some of our newspapers. The response to any "mistake" (Sonnex) is mistaken. So few notice that it is probation itself, as an idea, and a practice that is deeply flawed. Probation rests on the false presumption that many / most criminals can be trusted to go straight without recourse to a custodial sentence. This is false for the simple reason that the probation service deals with... criminals - those who wilfully break the law, are by default anti-social, and of course, have a hugely egotistical world-view. I am not a betting man, but on the basis of Sonnex's known crimes, I would have placed a substantial sum on him committing murder before the age of 25. Any damned fool would have placed the same bet. No matter the reality of course. If it makes the liberal-left feel warm and compassionate about being generous to those who wreck our lives (not liberals themselves, given that they do not live where the underclass live), then this is all well and good. In this way then, two things come to light. First, probation is not in accord with what we know about human nature: good people by and large stay good, and bad people by and large stay bad (until the bad get old and tired - they do not really reform of course). If criminals reformed easily, with a quiet word and a few hard glances, then criminals as a class of people would not exist in the numbers they do. It is a career choice, however poorly conceived. Second, it is not the case that the Left have the poor's welfare in mind. For who are the victims of crime? It is overwhelmingly the poor, who are forced to live among the low-lifes who ought to be in jail in the first place. By giving criminals the option to continue their careers, with the odd obstacle here and there, the Left are routinely ruining the lives of decent working class people. This is an outrageous truth, but few notice it. The Left deal in categories of course. If you are a criminal you are poor, therefore sympathy must flow automatically. You are in the same boat as a pensioner, struggling to maintain the weekly budget. This Marxist approach of dividing the world into two camps, the haves and have-nots is despicable in the extreme. For a more realistic view of things watch Michael Caine's Harry Brown. The Left is working hard to make real the dire prediction made by Alexis De Tocqueville in 1835 - reasonable citizens will engage in outright combat with the underclass scourge that the state refuses to deal with adequately. Good men will develop a strong sense of bitterness and betrayal. At the moment this is occurring only sporadically. But for how long?

Posted by: cybn at April 8, 2010 06:12 PM
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"The Left is working hard to make real the dire prediction made by Alexis De Tocqueville in 1835 - reasonable citizens will engage in outright combat with the underclass scourge that the state refuses to deal with adequately. Good men will develop a strong sense of bitterness and betrayal."

It was foretold long before de Tocqueville: see Matthew 24:12...

Hard laws make soft hearts: soft laws make hard hearts.

Posted by: W. Smith at October 21, 2010 04:47 PM
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Matthew 24:12 I wondered how long it would be before we had a religious nut job on the case and up pops the lovely Mr W. Smith, no points for what the W stands For.

Posted by: Steve at December 22, 2012 10:05 PM
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