Thinking Tank on Crime and Punishment 17.02.2011

In this debate we took a broad look at the challenging area of crime and punishment. Considering reports of high correlations of those in prison and those with dyslexia, communications disorders, child abuse, sexual abuse etc, maybe it is time we reflected on how to address crime in a more integrated way – and we saw more empathy for criminals than the popular press might suggest.

For the first time we ran the discussion at two time slots – afternoon and evening (GMT) to see which worked best. Turn up at the evening slot was very low but we will try it again in the March 17 debate in case that is just a one-off. All the results below are based on the combined debates. All comments are verbatim and got support from at least a third of the group, those in bold had majority support.

Tough on crime and the causes of crime?

The overall attitude towards crime was split with about half the group on the “hang them” side of the spectrum and half on the “heal them” side. There were diverse views about the underlying causes of crime because of this diverse group of participants, but we did agree on:

  • lack of community
  • sadly enough it is often related to social factors, education, family life, role modelling.. moral values

The view that “there are really bad people out there” split the vote, but there was general agreement that putting all crime in one basket from shop lifting to murder was unhelpful. The Thinking Tank did not feel that it was reasonable to manage these through the same system.

  • I am more relaxed about petty crime.. the stolen PC etc is annoyance, but no infringement in my family’s physical safety
  • Though crime is always crime I think a clear classification of crime is needed. Also perhaps for really petty crime a better way of dealing with it.
  • eg just focus on violent crime / criminals

Criminals

There was a lot of debate about the possibility of pretty much anybody losing their path and becoming a criminal of some sort. Many did not see criminals as a different species. But there was not enough convergence on this view to generate strongly supported statements other than:

  • Criminals come in all ages, ethnic backgrounds, etc.
  • I’ve done massage for women prisoners. Very moving (and disturbing) that they are so unused to kindness

There was much more agreement on the positive aspects of criminals, particularly if they are reformed and prepared to communicate about their journeys:

  • There are some reformed criminals who make excellent mentors for younger people. They understand how it goes, on the right wavelength, high credibility and a strong message
  • indeed my son has been given info from an ex drug addict criminal and this has helped him
  • My decorator was an armed bank robber… now he works in the local community centre and tries to discourage young people from making the same choices that he made
  • Yes, I think there are examples in lots of communities where criminals have made a positive contribution to society.  In terms of peer education, many young people are more likely to listen and take heed from people who have experienced it themselves.  It’s much more meaningful and so if they can prevent even one other young person from following a life of crime then that is positive

But this wasn’t enough for everybody and these statements also got support:

  • I don’t like the hopelessness of giving up on people but I’m no softie either, I’m a mum of 2 kids … I agree with the comment re life should mean life … but for me that would be a lifetime’s worth of rehab I guess!
  • Although I can see many criminals as “victims”, I believe that their real victims are more entitled to attention and fair treatment – which is not trivial

What next?

Lastly we discussed ideas for useful action in this area – which focused on prevention and cure rather than punishment.

  • Rehabilitation through work: couldn’t prison sentences be turned into useful work ? Doesn’t have to be slavery …
  • “I have recently learned how poorly “re-entry” into society is managed. Criminals need to be welcomed back if they are to “”recover”” rather than be treated as outcasts – so they may as well reoffend.
  • If criminologists can use their skills to work out who committed a crime, or profile a likely murderer can they not use this insight to help prevent criminals before they are fully developed?

To see the full list of comments made contact Catherine Shovlin
Some Inspiration:
TED talk by Kiran Bedi – the female former Director General of the Indian Police Service who introduced education and meditation for all in one of India’s toughest prisons.
Lord Ramsbotham on startups not lockdowns
Life science in prison TED talk
Women in prison. Smart Justice video on youtube

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