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How punitive can you be? The criminal justice arms race

Penelope Gibbs
19 Mar 2014

How punitive is the man on the Clapham omnibus?  It is a subject that divides people who work in the criminal justice sector.  Some campaigners feel people are less punitive than politicians or the tabloids think they are; that, if pressed, people think prison should be a last resort and that community alternatives should be the default response to most crimes. I’m less positive….more inclined to think people are quite in favour of imprisonment and harsh sentencing.  And a new survey commissioned by BBC Newsbeat suggests just that. What is more depressing about this survey is that it was with 1000 young people aged 18-30.  Nearly two thirds said 16 and 17 year olds should get the same kind of sentence as adults (at the moment they are subject to youth court law with more lenient sentences), 62% said prison conditions were not tough enough and 58% supported the death penalty.  Max Rutherford of the Barrow Cadbury Trust thinks that these results are consistent with other polls, where 18-25s have been more punitive than other age groups – he thinks maybe because they are more likely to be a victim of crime.  They are certainly consistent with the results of the regular polls conducted by Lord Ashcroft (49% recently supported the death penalty).  The polls are a wake up call to campaigners – that we have to be smarter in our work, to really understand why the desire to punish is so strong and to temper our messages accordingly.  Which is why Transform Justice, in partnership with the Criminal Justice Alliance and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, is embarking on a project to reframe criminal justice in the UK.  Watch this space.