The problem of reducing crime

Twelve years ago the prisoners at HM Prison Northward rioted. Part of the reason for this was that the prison was overcrowded. At the same time, draconian mandatory sentences were being advocated, which, of course, would occasion more overcrowding in the prison. It was inevitable that more prisoners had to be let out early to ease the overcrowding. However, our rate of recidivism would suggest the problem of reducing crime had not been solved.

We must certainly be thankful for the strengthening of police capabilities in the current emergency. We must ardently hope that every recent crime involving murder, robbery and other kinds of violence will be solved. But that is only the first element that is necessary. Solving the problem of who committed the crime needs to lead to solving the problem of reducing crime.

The mayor of London Boris Johnson has written recently about a scheme in South Dakota, USA, in which a person convicted of a drink-related violent offence may stay out of prison if he stays off drink. The individual is required to take a breath test twice a day. So a condition of his parole is that he must report twice a day to a police station and prove he has not been drinking; otherwise he is arrested and locked up. In addition the (relatively low) cost of the breathalyser test is met by the offender. According to Boris Johnson, in South Dakota they have had 16,000 people involved in the trial, and the system has been so efficient in preventing repeat offending that the prison population has come down by 14 per cent. The mayor advocates the scheme be used in the UK.

In Cayman’s case, should the scheme be used here, the testing, I suppose, should include testing for other drugs as well, since many offences here are drug-related. But in whatever way the idea may be tweaked, the important thing will be to ensure not only that the criminals are caught, but that crime, along with the prison population, is reduced.

Nicholas Sykes

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