Thursday, August 11, 2011
Crimes, Punishments and Riots
I must admit to more than a sneaking sympathy for those who want to cut the benefits of anyone convicted of riot related crimes. It goes without saying that the majority of those who will be convicted who are currently in work won’t be in the future. There’s also probably a case for saying that the parents of anyone under the age of 13 ought to lose their benefits if their child is convicted. I know that 13 is an arbitrary cut-off, but once kids are into their teens it gets harder to keep a lid on what they get up – particularly when the entire welfare system seems to exist to give them free reign.
However, I’m also not convinced that prison is the right punishment for some of the less serious offences. It seems to me that we ought to be thinking of putting some of these kids to work – and it should be unpaid. . And this should be real work – a proper working day, no bus fares being paid, no social workers on hand to soothe the ruffled feathers of teenagers who actually have to do as they are told. It should be real work with some value, not ‘make-work’. How about repairing the damage they’ve committed. Or fixing up some of the estates that are most run down. For this to work you need to have penalties in place. For every day that you are late a day is added to the sentence. For every day that is missed you add two days. If offenders repeatedly don’t turn up then it’s automatically a custodial sentence.
As a corollary, if we’re cutting benefits from offenders, then what do we expect them to do instead? Something like this calls for some radical action. Firstly, waive minimum wage rules for them. If they have to work for less than minimum wage then that’s tough. If they stick to their jobs then they can move on to somewhere that will pay better. Secondly, we have to do something about the gang culture that is a cancer in large parts of our inner cities. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be agreeing with Diane Abbot, but there you are. The police will have to come down really hard on the gangs. Loss of social housing, loss of benefits, custodial sentences – the full gamut of punitive options should be used. It’s gone too far already – now we need to take the opportunity to kill it off for good.