During my campaign, talking to people in Lincolnshire, some common themes emerge. Lincolnshire has some of the highest levels of criminal damage and disorderly behaviour of any shire county. The public have real frustration with low-level antisocial behaviour and there is real anger that the courts seem so powerless to deal decisively with repeat offenders who are released into the community to offend again. There is a real deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the way that our politicians have over the last 30 years allowed our whole criminal justice system to fall into such disrepute.
Whilst it is a normal human reaction to call for tougher sanctions (and they are more than justified) we should of course also focus on helping prevent crime in the first instance and so reduce the number of victims of crime. many of the things we can do to reduce crime and re-offending are in the hand of other agencies such as the NHS or Social Services.
I have commented upon this issue before and my manifesto has links setting out more details of my approach which includes the following:
The Young and Young Adults
Evidence shows that if by the time an individual has reached the age of 18 they have not already embarked on a life of crime, then they are unlikely to become a serious repeat offender. It is inevitable therefore that the focus on trying to reduce crime in the first place should be on working with the young.
A starting point is to actually help troubled families and seek to ensure that they can instil effective values within their family unit and discourage their young from antisocial, disruptive or even criminal behaviour. Where this intervention and support fails there are a series of sanctions that can be used against parents who allow their children to create concern and anxiety in their neighbourhoods. I will encourage the swift and decisive use of these powers against problem families who have not taken the advantage of appropriate support.
There are organisations like Positive Futures which can help the young move away from antisocial and criminal behaviour and lead more fulfilled lives. I would encourage other partners to maintain such services in spite of reductions in expenditure.
Lincolnshire is lucky in having a good and highly regarded Youth Offending Team. Again this needs to be supported and where possible developed and enhanced to reduce crime in the first instance.
Other agencies and organisations including schools and social services also have a role to play. The recent decision of the police not to visit schools is regrettable because it is essential that we build mutual trust and respect between the young and our police force. I would wish to reinstate those visits.
In the early stages of unacceptable behaviour such as petty vandalism, schemes such as the Restorative Justice where, with the consent of the victim, apologies are given and restitution carried out, can help prevent the young getting a criminal record for that offence and discourage further offences.
Drugs and Alcohol
These are two of the main reasons for offending and anti social behaviour.
Drug intervention strategies and education along with early access to rehabilitation services are essential. Likewise discouraging excessive use of alcohol and educating those at risk about its dangers must be part of any integrated approach to reducing crime.
Lincolnshire has relatively low funding for both of these and during the period of austerity it is important that the current budgets are protected and preferably enhanced.
When early intervention has failed and serious offending arises then there are programs such as Integrated Offender Management which can help turn repeat offenders into valuable members of the community.
Strategies such as police targeting repeat offenders, which is very intensive of use of police time, can have dramatic albeit not sustained reduction in some crimes, such as burglary.
To reduce reoffending is not sensible to send a drug addict to a drug riddled prison. An addict who goes in for acquisitive crime and comes out an addict will revert to acquisitive crime. We must challenge the effectiveness of the judicial and prison system in these areas.
There is the troubling issue of mental health. Lincolnshire traditionally has invested relatively little in mental health and all too often those with mental health issues get caught up in the criminal justice system. Not only is this bad for them but it also deflects the police from one of their core purposes, which is enforcement of the law.
Detection and Deterrence
A significant way by which crime can be reduced is by have high detection rates and strong deterrence. We must have real and effective sanctions for those repeat offenders who make the lives of others a misery. At the moment over 50% of tagging orders are breached and over 25% of community sentences are not completed. Whilst there is contempt for the police, the courts and their sanctions there will continue to be contempt for ones neighbours. The first part of my policy is that if you receive a sanction from the courts or the police you WILL comply and if you do not there WILL be genuine consequences. It has been said that certainty and swiftness of sanctions is more critical than the severity; we need to change our soft and slow approach.
There is some compelling evidence that many of the above initiatives can help reduce crime and reduce instances of reoffending. Where that evidence supports the programs or indeed points to the need for other programs then it is essential that the Commissioner, either directly through the force or through working with other agencies, ensures that such programs are developed and enhanced.
But these are tough times. Many of the lead agencies on the initiatives above (local government and the NHS) are having their budgets cut. We all need to work smarter and use public funds better. It would be so easy to cut spending in these areas but if we do we may all pay in the longer term….