Robocop Britain – the most expensive justice system in the world
"Centralised ‘Robocop justice’ has made Britain the most expensive country to police in the world as well as reducing public engagement, according to a new report published today. The report, by the independent think tank Reform, finds that the British public have become ‘passive bystanders, uninformed about crime and unlikely to participate in maintaining justice. It calls for open, participatory and accountable justice including online offender databases, a radical devolution of power to local Justice Commissioners and the establishment of a national police force.
Britons believe that anti-social behaviour is a matter for the police, whereas other countries see it as the role of parents, teachers and the community. Britons are the least likely in Europe to intervene when a crime is taking place. They receive less information about crime, offenders and punishment than overseas counterparts. Despite 66% of Britons wanting to play a role in tackling or preventing crime, instead they are ‘passive bystanders’ reduced to calling for ‘something to be done’.
Pressure for action has escalated as violent crime has increased from 8 per cent of all recorded crime in 1997 to 20 per cent in 2007/08. In particular Tony Blair instituted a ‘turbo-politicisation’ of criminal justice, stepping up legislation and public spending. Taking Nye Bevan’s mantra of Whitehall hearing ‘every bedpan falling in a hospital corridor’, modern politicians now want to be responsible for every ASBO and prison place.
The result is a move from Dixon of Dock Green to the Robocop of futuristic Detroit; mechanical, controlled from the centre and lacking human interaction. This has proved expensive and ineffective. Britain now has the highest spending on criminal justice as a proportion of GDP of any developed country, overtaking the US in the last decade, whilst not scoring highly on outcomes.
Current government attempts to localise amount to little more than a ‘colouring book’ approach, where national politicians dictate detailed targets and parameters, allowing for only a small amount of local autonomy.
Instead, genuine decentralisation to local Justice Commissioners is required; they would have responsibility for end-to-end criminal justice services. This would create:
• Greater local responsibility for funding law and order
• Innovative policing such as low cost wardens, Japanese Koban style police boxes, volunteer forces and specialist ‘hit squads’ that could be drafted in by the local force
• Interactive working between police, probation and correction, tracking offenders end to end and reducing reoffending
• Local debate and decision making about prosecution and correctional measures – for example Surrey could adopt a tougher approach than Yorkshire to prosecuting vandals.
A National Bureau of Investigation would be established with responsibility for strategic issues, serious criminals and high security institutions. Decentralisation should be accompanied by an information revolution, including:
• Offender databases that the public can access with details of sentences and release dates, like those in the US
• Televised and internet based community service, court proceedings and prison stays
• Full expansion of crime mapping
The report’s key findings are:
• There has been a shift in responsibility in the criminal justice system, away from the individual and towards centralised institutions, demonstrated by 76% of Britons believing that the police and courts are responsible for controlling anti-social behaviour, compared to around 45% in France and Germany.
• Six out of ten people in Britain would be unlikely to challenge a group of 14 year old boys vandalising a bus shelter in the UK, more than Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, France Spain and the UK. In Germany, six out of ten would challenge the group.
• British people are more worried about crime and violence with 43 percent reporting it as one of their greatest concerns compared to 21 percent in Germany and 27 percent in the US.
• The UK spends the largest amount in the OECD on law and order as a percentage of GDP, with nearly 40% more in real terms spent in 2006/07 than in 1997/98. This is higher than the US, double that of Sweden, France and Denmark and around 50% greater than that of Canada, Germany and Japan.
• Administration costs across the criminal justice service have risen by around 10% since 2002/03 – faster than frontline expenditure, which has risen by 7% since 2002/03.
• International comparison shows that criminal justice is most effective where it is close to the public and has strong local accountability.
Elizabeth Truss, Deputy Director of Reform and report author, said: “We need to slay the myth that the Home Secretary is responsible for every stabbing and car theft on the streets of Britain. We have to take back responsibility from Robocop.”
But the problem which Reform has rather ignored will be the lawsuits that come your way if Robocop happens to be a Muslim, and he interprets your desire for localism or efficiency as being racist or otherwise discriminatory.