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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Colchester's Crime Rate and How to Deal With It

Readers of this blog may well have seen the article in the Gazette on Monday January 26th about the shocking crime rates that Colchester and Tendring now have. The figures in the article come from the official website and have recently been released for the period October 2013 - September 2014. They reveal that Colchester has a higher crime rate per person than inner city Birmingham and Liverpool. More than seven violent or sex crimes are committed in Colchester every day. Colchester has 16.57 incidents per 1000 people compared to the Essex average of 13.39. In addition Tendring has one of the highest rates of violent and sexual crime in the country at 19.04 per 1000 people.

What these figures do is explode the myth that is often trotted out by politicians that peoples' perception of crime or fear of it is greater than the reality. They show that violent and sexual crime in Colchester is indeed rising and that there is a real and definite problem which needs to be addressed. Going into denial about the problem is completely unacceptable.

The Green Party And Crime

As far as the Green Party is concerned, we have an image problem as far as the crime issue is concerned and this must be addressed by us. Unfortunately we are perceived by some people as being soft on crime or more precisely as being a bunch of tree-hugging lefty hippies who feel sorry for the burglar who is ransacking your house and whose only solution is to ask him politely to consider mending his ways.This is a completely false perception and it is up to us to make this clear.The Green Party does not advocate patting chummy on the back and letting him carry on his criminal activities, indeed we have a comprehensive set of policies designed to both prevent crime in the first place and to ensure that criminals are caught and then do not repeat their offending.

Crime Prevention and Catching Criminals

The key to reducing crime rates is clearly crime prevention. Other political parties can bang on as much as they like about 'tougher sentencing', 'short sharp shocks' and so on but ultimately this amounts to shutting the stable door when the horse has bolted. It is evidence of failure and reactive politics, meaning that the problem has been allowed to get worse in the first place rather than being nipped in the bud. The Green approach to crime prevention includes the following:

1) End cuts to police numbers and police funding. The police are the mechanism by which the law is upheld. Providing that the police build good community relations, they are essential to the prevention of crime. Cutting police numbers, undermining police morale by attacking their pension provision and cutting police resources are going to make it harder for the force to do its job. In a context of rising crime rates, such austerity measures are dangerous. It is ironic that those political parties who are most vociferous in adopting a hang 'em and flog 'em approach to crime are also the least willing to invest in our police or in prisons. They promise to lock up more criminals and end up imposing swinging cuts.

2) Put more resources and greater effort into reducing social pressures which are conducive to crime. Essentially we must ensure that people are not driven into criminal activity by poverty. The introduction of a guaranteed Citizens' Income would be a major step in doing this. We must also end the current fashion for cutting benefits. The simple reality is that if you don't have enough to live on then your options are food banks, charity, begging, prostitution or property crime. Ensuring that people don't end up in this situation is not being 'wet' or 'soft'. Its about enlightened self-interest. It is fine for politicians to spout gung-ho soundbites about slashing benefits, 'clamping down on scroungers' and so forth however there is always a social cost to such actions. The bottom line is that it is not in anyone's interests to have people driven into crime by poverty , least of all the people who are made victims of crime as a result.
In addition we must end the liberalisation of gambling which leads to debt, desperation and sometimes crime.

3) End over development without a corresponding increase in police resources. Colchester has grown massively in the last 20 years and yet investment in the police has not matched this growth. The Green Party believes that over development is not just bad for the environment but also has negative consequences socially when it is not matched with investment in infrastructure.

4) Education. Around 50% of the prison population of the UK cannot read or write. Many are products of the care system and have lacked the parental support which helps others to emerge from the education system with qualifications. We cannot let this continue. Its hardly surprising that someone goes off the rails if they feel rejected all through their childhood then can't get a job because they are illiterate. The natural reactions are anger and desperation. Therefore far more resources need to be put into schemes which target young people vulnerable to ending up in this situation, particularly those in care.

5) Adopt a grown-up policy on drugs. Statistics show that up to 40% of burglaries are drugs related. People stealing to fund a hard drugs habit, heroin, crack and so on. Clearly we need to catch and lock up those who peddle and deal in hard drugs and the big drugs barons who reap in the profits from destroyed lives. However we must focus drugs policy on hammering the pushers and dealers, not on criminalising the addicts. The latter is pointless. What we need to do is invest far more resources into getting the addicts off drugs. There is no point in just locking them up and letting them continue their habits surreptitiously when inside. Drugs policy must target these finite resources on what is most important, namely catching and locking up the dealers/drugs barons and getting the users clean. We must prioritise resources so that we can really go for the criminal gangs behind hard drugs and break them. It is a complete waste of taxpayers money and police time to land some student a criminal record just for smoking a bit of cannabis while listening to his Pink Floyd albums. Therefore the Green Party would decriminalise such minor offences while concentrating resources on addressing the key issues.

Restorative Justice

A key aspect of Green Party policy on crime is restorative justice. Far too many people locked up in prison then go on to reoffend after release. In 2013 more than one in four criminals reoffended within a year, according to Ministry of Justice figures, committing 500,000 offences between them. This equates to a reoffending rate of 26.8 per cent. This is a massive failure rate which must be tackled. Therefore Green Party policy states:

CJ114 We will introduce the principle of "restorative justice", which while denouncing the crime, deals constructively with both the victim and the offender. The primary aim will be to restore and, if necessary, improve the position of the victim and the community; the offender will be required to make amends.

Prisoners need to be given more help in terms of learning to read and write, learning a trade or getting off drugs. Moreover since some prisons can be 'universities of crime' we must try and avoid sending young people to them in particular. There should be more emphasis on making convicted criminals do work in the community and work for their victim. Again this is not about being soft on crime but about preventing further crime and thus enlightened self-interest. There will be many criminals who would rather go to prison and sit in a cell all day than meet their victim face to face or do months and months of work for the community.

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