"My kind of justice is swift, effective and matches the crime". John Reid, Home Secretary.
It has been a bad week for John Reid. You can just imagine him, can’t you, choking on his own bile while “pleading” with magistrates not to lock up criminals who have committed minor offences. The reason being is that the prison population of England and Wales is hovering around its capacity of about 80,000 places. Reid’s woes have increased as he has been condemned from different quarters of the establishment.
Since New Labour case to power the prison population has risen by more than 24%. A first time burglar is twice as likely to get banged up now than under the Tories. The female prison population has risen to over 146% in 10 years. Around 7, 700 inmates attempted to injure themselves in 2003. The number of adults serving sentences under 12 months is up 160% since 1999. Around 1 in 5 people held on remand are acquitted of any crime.
Welcome to Western Europe’s jail capital. It is estimated by the Home Office that the prison population will be 190,600 by 2010! It is getting higher and higher but in words of David Blunkett, when challenged a couple of years ago over the increase of the female prison population, “build more prisons”!
The prison system incarcerates petty criminals, innocent people, vulnerable mentally distressed men and women and teenagers (the imprisoning of 15-17 year olds has increased over the past 10 years and 13 under-21 year olds committed suicide while in prison including on remand in 2005). But don’t let that stop New Labour in their continued crusade for votes ‘cos crime pays.
Since New Labour came to power in 1997, apparently 600 new criminal offences have been created. ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) which have shown not to work and now Reid is pushing for “behaviour orders" for people considered to be at risk of committing a violent crime. This Philip K Dick scenario has all the hallmarks of the proposals to the changes to the Mental Health Bill which states that someone who has been labelled with a severe personality disorder who might commit a crime could potentially be locked up (incidentally the Lords have rejected these proposals but one way or another New Labour is desperate to railroad these measures into law).
New Labour’s frightening political trajectory is authoritarian. Meaningless hollow rhetoric: “Tough on crime and the causes of crime”, a plethora of attacks on civil liberties, populist punitiveness, a promise to build another 8,000 prison places by 2011, prison ships, the abolition of an independent and critical Prison Inspectorate, more privatised jails, a crackdown on early release, attacks on trial by jury, and “victim” impact evidence to be included in trials. And the wider picture includes attacks on legal aid which means the poor won’t get a fair trial but rough justice.
A fundamentally better understanding of crime is to examine the inequalities and power relationships which exist in a patriarchal capitalist society. These inequalities are reflected within the prison population. It is not just a simply a case of pouring money into probation and rehabilitation but in wider economic and social changes which includes an equitable education system, better housing, public services and a better way of understanding each other.
This current society is riddled with alienation and atomisation. The ethos is of individualism and a dog-eat-dog mentality. The collective is left out of the equation. One area which would reduce the prison population and criminalisation is legalising the drugs industry as prohibition doesn’t work. But New Labour isn’t interested in creating a more inclusive and cohesive society instead quick fixes and vote winners are the name of the game and the continuation of neo-liberal policies.
Rosa Luxemburg argued: “Barbarism or Socialism”. I would argue that we are not at the crossroads anymore but half way down the barbarism route. It may sound depressing of me but a society that bases itself on a system that reduces people to a commodity in order to be exploited underpinned by an ideology that simply believes in “understanding a little less condemning a little more” exposes the way human beings are only worth what they can be used for.
Capitalism is the anti-social society.
NB: John “not fit for purpose” Reid has come up with a spectacular though cunning plan to ease the prison overload. He’s proposing to create 2,500 prison spaces by the end of the year by building cells on existing prison sites and reopening disused jail buildings.
Well, this is the man who compares tackling Home Office problems to home renovation. Nice one John, a very imaginative solution but maybe just stick to painting and decorating, eh.