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Crime falls but desire for harsh punishment remains

Penelope Gibbs
19 Jul 2013

Crime has fallen significantly yet again by 9/7% depending on which figures you use.  Hooray!  Except that people don’t believe the figures, still have great fear of crime and want punishment of offenders to get harsher.  When the figures on police recorded crime were issued this week, the twittersphere was alive with disbelief – with most saying people no longer report crime because they think nothing will be done about it.  There may be some truth in this, but the Crime Survey of England and Wales suggests crime really has gone down by 9%.  This survey is not based on police figures but on crimes people say they have suffered.  The pity is that people are not appreciating their greater safety.  The UK Peace Index recently showed that 25% of people expected to be a victim of crime, though in reality only 4% were likely to be victims.  The heavy coverage of crime in the newspapers undoubtedly contributes to this.  And confirms the need for harsh punishment among many.

One of the most depressing surveys this week was one by Lord Ashcroft which tried to verify a group of Conservative MPs perceptions of the common ground.  On some issues those surveyed were pretty uninterested – a third had no opinion on whether Britain should withdraw from the EU.  But on crime and punishment they had strong opinions. 49% wanted to bring back the death penalty, 82% wanted prisoners to serve the full sentence handed down by the court and 90% wanted repeat offenders to serve longer sentences than they did for their original conviction.  So despite falling crime (maybe because of it) British people remain convinced that punishment needs to be harsher.  There was one ray of light  in the Ashcroft poll.  Two thirds of respondents thought the parents of young offenders should be made legally responsible for their children’s actions.   Not a view I share, but if you follow the logic that means children should not be held responsible for their crimes.  So why not raise the age of criminal responsibility?