Hate crime and prison

 

Everyone should be appalled at the rise in hate crime since the BREXIT result and agree that the campaigns by the EXIT campaigners in some way made respectable the attitudes and behaviours of the perpetrators.

Under the circumstances it is understandable that many are calling for tough or mandatory prison sentences for hate crime even where the intensity of an individual act may relatively minor. (All hate crime has an impact and should never be regarded as minor but I am trying to differentiate scale). But prison may not be the answer especially for young offenders with a first offence.

In prison there will be no form of programme to re-educate people away from hate crime. No such programmes in prison exist. Even if they did they would be reserved for the most high risk and serious offenders. The best someone could expect if imprisoned for hate crime would be an anger management course which may be useful but does not deal with the issue. At best a perpetrator will come out of prison with the same mindset with which they went in.

At worst the imprisonment will feed the attitudes of the prisoner. Let me give some examples from my own experience. At Wandsworth a prison guard responding to the death of Nelson Mandela remarked “all this fuss over another dead terrorist”. At Brixton posters put up about LGBT issues and heroes were torn down in the sight of prison officers who did nothing despite an official complaint from another prisoner who did not even get a reply. In another prison – relatively well run and humane with committed and well trained staff (on the whole) it was observable how white racist groups – those who had tattoos showing their feelings for example – congregated together. There were also issues around “teachers” having discussion groups to radicalise young disaffected Muslims.

I would argue that this is not the environment into which to place those convicted of “minor” hate crime. I believe that unless there is supported work within the prison an individual will get worse rather than better. The notion that “prison works” is probably no more true for hate crime than it is for many other issues. I also believe that the attitudes of many prison staff and the environment of tension would undermine supported work if it existed.

Of course this is a serious issue and of course it should be confronted and tackled. A knee jerk response in the direction of prison is unlikely to be the way forward. The prisons are overcrowded and ever more dangerous. The most vulnerable prisoners are often left to fend for themselves and others simply become more brutal. Those convicted of “minor” hate crime and imprisoned may be (on either side) radicalised and are undeterred. In fact they may make the sort of contacts that will lead them to be able to join with others and make the situation worse.

 

* Richard Edwards is a pseudonym for a contributor who wishes to remain anonymous

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18 Comments

  • John Peters 15th Aug '16 - 1:05pm

    Isn’t hate crime that one where no evidence of crime needs to be presented. Someone simply has to say they feel that a crime was committed so it is a crime?

    it sounds like a remarkably stupid way of defining a crime.

    Have you any evidence that hate crime convictions have risen?

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 15th Aug '16 - 1:25pm

    No, John Peters, that is not the definition of a hate crime.

    In England, a hate crime is a crime where at the time an offence is committed the offender demonstrates hostility based on a person’s actual or supposed gender, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, disability status, age or so on.

    Some of those categories are specifically recognised in statute and some are recognised by the judiciary and prosecutors in pulished policy and case law.

  • John Peters 15th Aug '16 - 1:33pm

    @Antony Hook

    In that case I’d still like to see the evidence for the rise in hate crime as mentioned in the opening sentence. All I have seen is reports of a rise in the number of reports of hate crime.

  • Antony Hook

    “In England, a hate crime is a crime where at the time an offence is committed the offender demonstrates hostility based on a person’s actual or supposed gender, race, religion, nationality, sexuality, disability status, age or so on.”

    But for the investigation it is where the accuser perceives a connection to a particular characteristic.

    Or invents a connection to one:

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/08/the-real-hate-crime-scandal/

    Or in Nottinghamshire, not even when a crime occurs…

  • “Everyone should […] agree that the campaigns by the EXIT campaigners in some way made respectable the attitudes and behaviours of the perpetrators.”
    “it is understandable that many are calling for tough or mandatory prison sentences”
    “In prison there will be no form of programme to re-educate people”

    Some of the assumptions in this post really are disturbing. At least sanity returns in the last two paragraphs.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 15th Aug '16 - 2:39pm

    John Peters,

    I think a rise in reported crime is generally good evidence of a rise in crime, although it is isn’t always.

    I think in this case it probably is.

    If you are only willing to accept convictions as good evidence of crimes having taken place then look for conviction stats over next 6-24 months as they come to trial.

  • John Peters 15th Aug '16 - 3:00pm

    @Antony Hook

    I don’t trust self-certified hate crime reports. Evidence of the rise in the number of people charged with race crime would at least give some basis in fact to the author’s claim. At the moment it is uncorroborated opinion presented as fact.

  • Jonathan Ferguson 15th Aug '16 - 3:03pm

    A brave piece. It’s certainly true that it’s questionable to put everyone guilty of a hate crime into ‘the greatest schoolyard of criminality every invented,’ as it were. I think there is at least one more crucial points that needs to be raised in this regard:

    The interpretation of a hate crime is very subjective, so a very high burden of proof is needed to secure a conviction; as a corollary, sentencing also requires a high degree of prudence. Hate crimes are never a matter of brute material facts (i.e. did he/she hit him/her or not?) but of subjective interpretation, which quite clearly raises serious dilemmas for the rule of law, insofar as transparency and clarity in the ‘letter of the law’ is of paramount importance, and distinguishes relatively free and equal and open societies from civilizational and political failures such as North Korea or the Soviet Union or Saudia Arabia.

    I can entertain a hate speech qualification for crimes where there is already a relatively objective crime that has been committed, e.g. an assault or vandalism. But to legalise ‘hate’ itself is to give the government, police and judiciary a lot more power than they are either able or prepared to do good with, rather than evil. If the political and cultural landscape has shifted enough in the next ten or twenty years, I think the implementation of hate speech laws will be very… ‘interesting.’ Certainly, for social critics such as feminists or LGBT activists or anti-racism advocates, ‘no-platforming’ may be the very least of their worries!

  • Jonathan Ferguson 15th Aug '16 - 3:04pm

    Clarification: Hate crimes are never *merely* a matter of brute material facts (i.e. did he/she hit him/her or not?)…

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 15th Aug '16 - 3:32pm

    John Peters,

    Would you say the same to reports of burglary, shoplifting, other crime?

    Do reports of those crimes not indicate they are taking place too?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Aug '16 - 11:09pm

    Richard writes very movingly here , but there is much to think on in response.

    Prison often does not work , but it should and must . We need to be consistent.

    If I criticise the BBC strongly , which I do , lefties of a same old same old tendency , think I want to abolish it , which I do not ! I want to reform it !

    If I criticise the NHS, which I do , the reaction from such quarters is similar , as is my reasoning and responding to it . Reform !

    We need to reform prison , but prison , not working is not the end goal , it is prison working !

    For a start we should not send those not violent or hate filled to prison.No tv licence evaders , back to the BBC again ! No shoplifters filching knickers from M and S! No pot smokers having a spliff ! No low level tax evaders owing back tax! They all need strong and tiring non custodial sentences !

    There are many drug related prisoners involved in hard drugs, who need an institution that is not a prison , but a treatment centre.

    There are many mentally ill prisoners who need a mental to keep them and us safe and help them find the treatment they need that can sort out their situation.

    However there are villains , murderers, violent offenders who have done hideous things , harmed the vulnerable in horrible ways,who need punishing for years or the whole of their life , hard work , anger management courses or not , prison proper !

    It is for us to define a “hate crime ” before we can have a knee jerk view . Nottighamshire police, in the city I am based, have become the first police force to collect data on “wolf whistles ” towards women on the street , to be collated as or with hate crimes !

    The world sometimes seems to be going mad . We must know what is the real crime we are talikg about.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Aug '16 - 11:13pm

    Two corrections , meant to say , ” or not as the case may be ” on non custodial sentences , as I do not think pot smoking deserves any sentence at all ! And should say “mentally ill prisoners need a mental institution “, the words got missed out fully .

  • It is interesting that LibDems are so comfortable with thought crimes these days. Presumably this is fine as the perpetrators of these particular thought crimes re so easy to dislike.

    Even ignoring the principle on a pragmatic level it is simply an extension of the old Michael Howard idea of “prison works” I do wonder how many people would subscribe to these ideas if those effected were different.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Aug '16 - 2:16pm

    psi

    I am not convinced anyone is happy with the idea , or anything in practical policy either, of thought crimes, in this or most parties in our liberty loving country.

    We have definitely a need to define what we mean by a hate crime , as I explain above.

    If it is a proper hate crime ,by the hitherto,usual ,sort of understanding of such a phrase, we have need to punish, and properly. Bricks in the window , offensive or vile graffiti on a shop front , abusive intimidation and insults, are clearly motivated by hate and are punishable as such.

    The problem is the degree of it as well as the proof. And of course the motive.The reason it is absurd to classify wolf whistles as anything even approaching any sort of a crime , is, it is meant as a compliment even if it is an irritation. That is a million miles from harrassment of the lewd , groping , insulting , emotional or, importantly , physical level , and ,all of the above , should not be considered as hate crimes but as a different category , as they always have.

    It is important that we , as Liberals and democrats realise that, innocent until proven guilty ,and the harm principle , are the watch words of good policy in most of these areas , but , when an offence is clearly indicative of real hate , it is indeed an offence !

  • Simon Banks 16th Aug '16 - 4:56pm

    OK, despite that remarkable pseudo-definition, John Peters has a point. A rise in reports of hate crime, like a rise in reports of sexual offences, may mean either there has been a rise in the incidents, or that a higher proportion of incidents is being reported.

    Further study (for example, polling people to ask if they’ve had experience of this kind of offence) takes time. However, there are some commonsense arguments in the meantime. Has anything happened that could have lead to a sudden improvement in the reporting rate? I don’t think so. Has anything happened that could have encouraged offenders? Yes. More robust is to look at the KIND of offence reported. Most people will report being badly beaten up or their car being torched. Most will not report a racist remark from a passing stranger or short-lived jostling on the street or a “mildly” offensive remark about their religion posted online. So if the increase in reported incidents is across the board, from the most serious to the least, the increase is almost certainly real. If, on the other hand, it’s almost entirely at the lower end – the casual jostling and name-calling – then the police can probably congratulate themselves that more victims are believing going to the police can achieve something.

  • Lorenzo Cherin

    “Bricks in the window , offensive or vile graffiti on a shop front […], are clearly motivated by hate and are punishable as such.”

    I’m not sure they always are, but the question should be does the type of hatred matter, the victim of the crime will have suffered regardless. If it is a crime derived from the perps dislike of particular protected characteristics or just a desire of a local thug to have someone fear them.

    The individual prejudices shouldn’t matter the action taken matters.

    The Nottinghamshire example is simply this mindset jumping the shark, but what should be investigated and prosecuted should be actions not thoughts (beyond establishing an act was intentional).

  • The most disturbing thing for me about modern Britain is the rise in the numbers of social justice warriors who can see something offensive in even the most innocuous opinions, jokes or even repetitions of accepted research and the over-the-top consequences of this establishment neo-puritanism.

    See Trevor Phillips documentary “Things we won’t say about race that are true” and try to understand the message that with continuous accusations of racism against the police we have created an atmosphere where real crime is not acted upon until far too late, such as in Rotherham.

  • JamesG

    “The most disturbing thing for me about modern Britain is the rise in the numbers of social justice warriors who can see something offensive”

    There have always been people who would over react to “offense” the issue is the number (and types) of people who take them seriously (even in part).

    The policing issue is a more complex matter that is too much of a tangent to cover here.

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