Issue 180 of SOCIALIST REVIEW
Published November 1994
Copyright © Socialist Review
|NOTIFIABLE OFFENCES RECORDED BY THE POLICE: BY TYPE OF OFFENCE, 1992
England & Wales and Northern Ireland
1) Violence against the person, sexual offences and robbery
2) In Northern Ireland the figures exclude criminal damage valued at £200 or less
Source: Home Office, Royal Ulster Constabulary
- The outrage over crime and the cry that we are witnessing a decline in moral standards is nothing new. In the 1860s London was 'under seige' from a 'garrotting panic' as a number of prominent Londoners, including an MP, were mugged and garrotted. The police raged that criminals were being dealt with too gently. Politicians responded by increasing police powers and manpower. There was a similar outrage after the murder of James Bulger in Liverpool last year at the hands of two other young boys. In response the government introduced a new prison regime for 12-14 year olds.
- In fact violent crime (that is, violence against the person, eg assault, murder) accounts for only 1 in 20 of all offences recorded in Britain. This proportion has stayed roughly constant since 1971, and does not indicate that the country is a more violent place to live. In the US the murder rate in the 1930s was proportionately as high as it is today. German murder rates were higher in the late 19th century than they are now.
- Programmes like Crimewatch UK give the impression that violent crime is committed by complete strangers. But in Britain some 70 percent of murders are committed by an acquaintance of the victim; 20 percent of them by a lover or a spouse.
- Despite popular images, it is not the old that are most susceptible to violent attack. Those aged 1619 are 20 times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than those aged over 65; and men are twice as likely to be attacked than women.
- In 1991 a burglary was nearly twice as likely to happen in a household headed by a 16-29 year old rather than in one headed by an over 65 year old.
- There has been a substantial decrease in recorded juvenile crime (aged under 17) over the last decade. The number convicted or cautioned for indictable offences fell by 37 percent from 175,800 in 1980 to 109,000 in 1990.
- Police figures for the levels of crime are a fiddleand these are the figures most commonly cited by politicians. High levels of published crime records in the 1980s allowed chief constables to win dramatic budget increases from the Home Office. According to police figures, crime in Britain has increased nine fold since 1973. However, this is largely attributed to more sophisticated methods of compiling figurescomputerisation and so on-as well as a greater willingness to report crime because of insurance needs.
- The British Crime Survey states that the 5 percent decline in crime figures in the 12 months to 1994 reflected less reporting of crime rather than less crime, due largely to the rising cost of insurance premiums in inner city areas. As more households are priced out of insurance, fewer have the incentive to report property crime.
- An increase in police numbers results in an increase in the recorded rate of crime as more policemen have more time to deal with petty crimes that would have otherwise been passed without notice. Quite often when these 'crimes' reach the courts they are dismissed because they don't merit prosecution.
- The proportion of offences cleared up in England and Wales has declined steadily over the last 12 years from 40 percent in 1980 to 26 percent in 1992. This is despite the fact that total police numbers had increased by nearly a third since 1971.
- The idea that more bobbies on the beat prevents crime is a myth. A policeman will only pass within a hundred yards of a burglary once every 8 years.
- The proportion of Afro-Caribbeans that were victims of burglary in 1991 was twice that of whites. All the surveys report that crime tends to be concentrated in inner city deprived areas.
- Unemployment and poverty are one of the main reasons for people committing crime (this has long been recognised by the Home Office). In 1971 the United Nations Social Defence Research Institute (UNSDRI) found that economic recession is accompanied by a rise in most forms of property crime and other forms of 'social' crimes such as vagrancy and drunkenness.
- The poorer sections of the working class comprise the largest proportion of the prison population. In the early 1970s a study found that three quarters of prisoners were manual workers; a third were homeless at the time of sentencing and 15 percent illiterate. In 1988 nearly a fifth of the prison population was there for defaulting on fines.
- The UK has the second highest rate of prison population in the EC with 92 prisoners per 100,000 of population, second only to Luxemburg, and twice that of Greece and the Netherlands. Black people are over represented in prisons.
- Over the last 40 years, remand prisoners have made up an increasing proportion of the prison population, 22 percent in 1992 compared to 7 percent in 1951. The number of untried prisoners still represents one sixth of the total prison population.
- A recent study by the Countryside Commission found that walkers often avoided woods and parks which were virtually crime free because they were worried about attacks. The media have been successful at creating fear of walking in public parks and woodlands, in complete contradiction to the crime statistics.
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