Soft sentencing blamed for riot rampage as it is revealed two thirds had criminal past
By Jack Doyle on 16th September 2011
Soft sentencing was last night blamed for allowing hardened criminals to go on the rampage during last month’s riots.
Official figures showed two thirds of rioters with criminal histories have never tasted prison.
That is despite rioters having amassed more than previous 16,000 offences between them – an average of 15 each.
One in four of those charged over the riots has committed more than ten offences, and one in 20 has committed 50 or more.
It also emerged that one in ten charged for their part in the violence and looting were either serving a community sentence at the time of their arrest or were ‘on licence’ after release from prison.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the statistics confirmed it was ‘existing criminals’ who had gone ‘on the rampage’.
Last week he revealed that nearly three quarters of rioters have criminal histories, and claimed this showed that the penal system was ‘broken’.
He has also argued for sending fewer criminals to jail, saying that short sentences do not provide time for rehabilitation.
But criminologist Dr David Green, from the Civitas think-tank, said locking up would-be rioters would have been ‘100 per cent effective’ at preventing them from joining in the widespread looting. ‘Ken Clarke says prison doesn’t work to rehabilitate people and we need effective community punishments,’ he said. ‘But what these figures actually show is many of the rioters were hardened criminals who should have been in prison. If they had been they would not have been able to go rioting – it is 100 per cent effective at stopping crimes against the public.
‘We are talking about career criminals, and people like that deserve to be sent to prison for a prolonged period to protect ordinary people. There is no evidence that any community sentences are more successful than prison at rehabilitation.’
The figures confirmed that the courts are dishing out tougher punishments to rioters than ordinary offenders.
At five months, the average magistrates’ court jail term for a rioter is twice the average for non-riot crimes. Crown Court jail terms are more than 50 per cent higher.
Crown Court judges have jailed 90 per cent of the riot-related burglars they have dealt with, and every violent offender to have appeared in the dock. But very few riot cases have yet reached the courts.
The Ministry of Justice figures showed 1,715 convicted criminals stand accused of involvement in the riots that hit English cities between August 6 and 9, causing millions of pounds in damage.
Of the 1,561 whose criminal histories were examined by statisticians, nearly three-quarters – a total of 1,133 – had at least one criminal offence to their name. Although the vast majority of offenders were under 25, they have amassed 16,598 offences – or an average of 15 each.
But only 406 had ever received a jail term, compared with 727 who had received community punishments, cautions, and other non-custodial sentences.
Nearly two thirds were serious offences, including burglary, robbery, drugs crimes and violence.
Mr Clarke said: ‘These figures confirm that existing criminals were on the rampage. I congratulate the courts for delivering swift and firm justice, which stopped the riots spreading further.
‘I am dismayed to see a hard core of repeat offenders back in the system. This reinforces my determination to introduce radical changes to ensure both effective punishment and reform to tackle reoffending.’
In the Guardian last week, he wrote: ‘Close to three quarters of those aged 18 or over charged with riot offences already had a prior conviction.
‘That is the legacy of a broken penal system – one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful.
‘The riots can be seen in part as an outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes – individuals and families familiar with the justice system who haven’t been changed by past punishments.’
The liberal myth that prison doesn't work
By Daily Mail Comment Created 10:36 PM on 15th September 2011
For Britain’s liberal media, led by the BBC, and the small but noisy band of ‘penal reformers’ – which worryingly includes the Justice Secretary Ken Clarke – it was a sobering day.
For weeks, based on Mr Clarke’s announcement that three-quarters of last month’s rioters had criminal convictions, they have been insisting that these thugs were the product of a ‘broken’ prison system which had put them on the road to a life of crime.
The only way to cut reconviction rates, the reformers said, was to scrap all short jail sentences and hand out ‘more rehabilitative’ community punishments instead. How frighteningly wrong these liberal hand-wringers have turned out to be.
For analysis by Mr Clarke’s own department yesterday revealed that, in fact, two-thirds of those rioters with convictions had never been inside prison, let alone been corrupted or failed by the experience.
Even though they had an average of 15 convictions each – and in excess of 50 charges on their record in some cases – these hardened criminals were allowed to escape with a string of cautions and soft community punishments.
Shockingly, many were even serving their community sentences when they smashed their way into shops and set fire to businesses – something that would, of course, have been impossible had they been locked-up for the initial crime.
The riots in London have led many to claim our penal system is broken
Yes, the justice system is ‘broken’ and has utterly failed to protect the public.
But it’s not prison that is to blame. It’s the fact that the mindless yobs who went on the rampage last month had never been sent to jail in the first place, or had not served anywhere near long enough to deter them from wanting to go back.
This paper supports Mr Clarke’s desire for a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ where convicts are taught the skills they need to get jobs.
But the lesson of the riots is that this rehabilitation must take place inside jail – not through cautions and community punishments which put the public at risk.
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Iron-fisted headteacher causes outrage as he bars 150 pupils from lessons for breaking minor rules
By Kate Loveys on 16th September 2011
A zero tolerance headmaster sent home 109 pupils on the first day of his new job – for wearing the wrong uniform.
Dr Rory Fox, 43, who previously taught at a prison, has introduced a set of strict rules to clamp down on ill-discipline at the troubled Basildon Academy in Essex. Parents and teachers say the effects are already ‘remarkable’.
In the first three days of this term alone, he sent home 151 pupils for wearing trainers with Velcro, the wrong trousers, an unsuitable school bag and, in one case, a gold hairband.
Scores more were sent to after-school detention for failing to bring a pencil, paper, rubber and ruler with them to class, while dozens were put in an isolation centre for disrupting lessons.
Just 48 hours after the iron rules were introduced, teachers reported they had doubled the amount of teaching time in lessons, as they no longer had to perform ‘crowd control’.
While a handful of parents have attacked Dr Fox’s draconian measures, branding them ‘ridiculous’, there has been a groundswell of support from many grateful parents who are desperate for their children to learn in school.
The £45million Basildon Academy was formed last year from two failing schools in Chalvedon and Barstable.
But despite the cost, a year later standards had still not improved in either the lower or the upper academies, which together educate almost 1,600 pupils.
Parents say graffiti covered the walls, little homework was set – and none of it was marked – and pupils would get up in the middle of class to go for a cigarette.
Truancy was high, as were fighting, bullying and staff sickness, with teachers unable to cope with the level of bad behaviour.
Dr Fox, the former head of learning at Edmunds Hill Prison in Suffolk, was brought in to transform the academy after Ofsted found it was making inadequate progress.
He has introduced a set of strict rules. Pupils must adhere to a dress code which includes a black school blazer, a shirt and a tie with black and gold stripes. They must bring a pencil, pad, ruler, rubber and timetable to every class. Those who break the rules are sent home or given an after-school detention.
Pupils who misbehave in class are put in an isolation centre, where they must read in silence. The youngsters are also taught right from wrong and given lessons in manners.
Dr Fox said: ‘How can we get children to learn if they can’t even learn to turn up at school with the right equipment?
‘How can you teach algebra to pupils who can’t turn up on time? I believe you have to try very, very hard on the small stuff to ensure everything else falls into place. The change is just remarkable. The morale of the teachers is high, there is no bullying and pupils are happy.
‘Most importantly, now there is far less disruption, pupils are free to learn. And we are instilling good habits that will make them good citizens and employees.’
Julie Terry, 49, from Basildon, has three children at the academy. She said: ‘The change is remarkable.
PCSO launches 25th Home Watch scheme in Irlam
Over the past eight years, PCSO Mark Fitzgerald has worked tirelessly to ensure that his Lower Irlam beat is covered by as many Home Watch schemes as possible.
Aside from setting up Home Watch schemes, PCSO Fitzgerald has also distributed Smart Water technology to more than 130 homes. Smart Water is property marking liquid, which contains a unique chemical signature almost like DNA. As well as acting as a deterrent to thieves, it enables police officers to return items to their owners in the event that they are stolen and recovered.
PCSO Fitzgerald has also set up community committee meetings, which have proved to be very popular with residents. The meetings are used to give updates on crime on the area as well as advising residents on what they can do to protect themselves and their property.
PCSO Mark Fitzgerald said: “Following a spate of burglaries and break-in’s to sheds and garages, I became committed to making my patch a safer place to live. Thanks to a great sense of cooperation and positive community spirit, the residents in Lower Irlam have shown what can be achieved when working with local PCSOs.
“Since the introduction of the Home Watch schemes, community committee meetings and Smart Water, burglary in the area has reduced by 98 per cent. This is excellent news and we will continue working with residents to make the streets even safer.”
Local resident, Barbara Edmunds said: “It’s great working with Mark to protect ourselves and our property. All the Home Watch members are proud to show their support as it is mutually beneficial to both the police and residents.”