Terrorising the traumatised: the Tories have a weak and wicked approach to crime

Twice in as many weeks, this government has committed to making would-be offenders “literally feel terror” in an effort to look tough on violent crime. The country eagerly awaits the Home Secretary’s Tory power pose to accompany this policy.

The truth is, the Tories have gone soft on crime. A tough policy is one that works – but their approach of inciting fear among those at-risk of offending simply isn’t an effective means of reducing crime. Reams of academic evidence and my work as a frontline practitioner make that very clear.

Project Terror starts with turbocharging police stop and search powers to scare people at risk of violent offending out of carrying weapons. Aside from being unfair and unjust, this is an ineffective policy. Priti Patel’s own Home Office team “found no statistically significant crime-reduction effect… from the increase in weapons searches.”

Next on the list is building 10,000 new prison cells to banish criminals to. Again, the government’s own figures tell us that more of the same will not work: nearly two in three ex-offenders re-offend within one year of release from our prisons.

Project Terror is doomed because it’s based on the flawed assumption that the ‘choice’ to offend is always as shallow as Boris’s choice between foie gras and a pig’s head on the Bullingdon Club menu.

Too many young ex-offenders we work with at Cracked It had perceived no choice but to offend before they started working with us. Faced with an education system that fails to equip them with the skills they need to access employment, and a benefits system that locks their families in poverty, they felt backed into crime’s corner to generate an income. Young ex-offenders tell us about how they would deal drugs, sleeping with a knife for safety, to make money that they’d secretly slip into mum’s handbag to help pay the bills.

In other cases, it’s clear that childhood trauma can impair the choices of those ex-offenders who have experienced it. Trauma is a neuro-cognitive injury that can literally limit one’s capacity for empathy, aggression control, perceiving options, and comprehending consequences. Some of these impacts are linked to offending. This is significant because 29% of ex-offenders have experienced childhood abuse and 41% have observed violence in the home. Terrorising the traumatised is as wicked as it is arrogant and naïve.

Being tough on crime is not about peddling fear-based counternarratives. Being tough on crime is about providing hope-led counteroffers that give would-be offenders a real choice and a real chance to break the cycles of offending that our system frequently consigns them to.

With the values of individual empowerment and freedom to choose at the heart of our party, the Liberal Democrats have the toughest and smartest approach to crime.

In practice, this means investing in youth and children’s services so that every child has the chance to grow up in a home free of abuse.

This means ensuring every child has the chance to fully participate in an inclusive education system and develop their passports to employment. No more merry-go-round school exclusions that funnel children into the pupil-to-prison pipeline.

This means ripping the roof off our labour market for ex-offenders to have the chance to contribute to the success of UK plc, rather than the violent black market. An Employers’ National Insurance break for hiring ex-offenders would nudge more workplaces in this direction. If Trump’s America can do it via the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, so can – dare I say it – Boris’s Britain.

The Tories’ Project Terror is hard-line but softball. As the party that strives to create real choices and real chances for all, the Liberal Democrats are crime’s worst nightmare.

* Josh Babarinde is Founder and CEO of Cracked It, London's award-winning social enterprise smartphone repair service, staffed by young ex-offenders. He's a decade-long party member and campaigner, hailing from Eastbourne.

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  • Sue Sutherland 14th Aug '19 - 1:42pm

    Josh thank you for this very informative post. We are now retired but my husband ran a homeless charity which involved working with ex offenders to help them stop reoffending, with some success. The approach you suggest was much more effective than leaving people to sink or swim on their own.
    Many offenders have a mental health problem and it seems to me that a vindictive prison system is the last place that they should be.
    Breaking the cycle of childhood abuse and violence is extremely difficult and when this is combined with poverty I would think it’s almost impossible, but you have achieved exactly that. Boris, on the other hand, is playing to the gallery of authoritarian old Tory party members in the hope they will vote for him rather than for the Brexit party. He isn’t trying to solve the nation’s problems at all. I’m hoping against hope that this will back fire when the rest of the country refuses to be governed by the whims and prejudices of a bunch of old fogies.

  • Malcolm Todd 14th Aug '19 - 3:02pm

    Good heavens, an expert opinion!
    A most interesting and compelling piece, thank you. I almost despair of ever hearing such calm good sense from a home secretary, justice secretary or prime minister.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Aug '19 - 2:17pm

    A terrific piece from Josh, who knows far more than many.

    I believed in the tough on crime, tough on causes of crime approach of relatively sensible early Blair government. It was a genuinely joined up policy, not mere rhetoric. The excellent New Deal the very good first Blair government based on the FDR approach, worked to some degree. Like the US tax credit Josh mentions here, it favoured the employment of key people disadvantaged, but did not specifically target ex offenders.

    We need more like Timpsons, who do good things with them.

    But we need to do so for all who seek to become employed or self employed, money has to be wider spread, the innocent, the law abiding, unemployed or cash strapped must get access to help too, positive discrimination is to favour disadvantaged more than advantaged, not to pick who is perceived as either, and not to favour criminality, but to stop it reoccuring.

    Josh, we must target wickedness, many low level criminals should not be incararated. Many should be released and in programmes. But we do need really wicked perpetrators to be really punished. We cannot just be for the guilty, but must be for the victims of the violent for Liberalism demands we support the underdog, especially those who have suffered.

  • David Garlick 16th Aug '19 - 8:50pm

    Thanks or this. It will cost a lot but not to do it will blight the lives of many in and around the criminal justice (not sure how this term is still used for it) system. It will also blight the lives of the many potential victims that might be spared the trauma if only we can give the marginalised a new, supportive and hopeful pathway.

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