Are we going to fall into a simplistic trap over the riots that gripped London and England this week? So far much debate on the causes, much discussion on bringing the people who did this to book, and a sort of numbness over the horrific and frightening scale of it. But what is the long-term solution and how should we deal with the smart phone savvy generation that perpetuated it?
Up to now the debate has concentrated on making sure the people are punished – from ludicrous calls from one Tory MEP to shoot the rioters on the spot to making sure we fill our overfull prisons and detention centres with every single person who was on the streets. As David Cameron said today: “We will track you down, we will find you, we will charge you, we will punish you. You will pay for what you have done. ”
What of the cost to us the taxpayer of all this. Higher insurance premiums (a £200m pay out is on the way) or taxes running to hundreds of millions to pay for the damage to buildings is now to be followed by a huge bill for legal costs, extra policing, and jailing the offenders. Remember the cost of jailing each offender will be more expensive than the daily bill for educating David Cameron and Boris Johnson at Eton. And given the depressing picture of conditions at Wandsworth prison published this week by the Chief Inspector of Prisons,(see http://bit.ly/oEcESH ) much good may it do us.
It is likely that when the rioters emerge from these detention centres and prisons they be more savvy in avoiding detection, have lucrative drug dealing contracts, and learnt from hardened crims new ways to commit burglaries.
So what is to be done? I have one suggestion – when people are convicted of damaging a police vehicle, fire engine, a shop and a home, or stealing goods they should be presented with the bill and ordered to make a contribution to compensate the victim or the service.
Instead of going to prison they will bound over by the courts to pay back money to victim or store – and this will be enforced by either direct deductions from their wages or benefits or even from their credit cards if they have any, over a five, and in bad cases, a ten-year period. This would not apply if they had killed or seriously injured anyone where they would go to jail.
In case anyone thinks this is a ” bleeding heart ” soft option I would propose very tough enforcement to back this up. If they fail to do this they will face – like a suspended sentence – going to jail for the full period of their repayment term, which would be much longer than a normal jail sentence for burglary or criminal damage. This would act as a strong deterrent but fewer people might want to risk going to jail.
Second there is a need to reconnect the alienated rioter with mainstream society. I suggest this is done by making him or her meet the victim, whether a small shopkeeper, the local fire or police station, or the local manager of the wrecked Tesco’s, Carphone Warehouse or Barclays Bank. Then they might see this is not a victimless crime and that the people who work and live there are human beings with human feelings and their lives are blighted by such actions. The rioters may also want to see where the money is going and could mitigate the bill if they returned some of the stolen goods.
There needs to be a conversation between the community and the rioters not separate anger among communities and young people themselves about what has happened.
How this can be organised at a time of huge spending cuts I do not know particularly when even some of the magistrates courts handling the emergency – such as Westminster – are about to be closed down, but organised it must be.
Political leaders at Westminster and in town halls across England need to take the lead. Organisations like Victim Support and the probation service, must be able to play a role. There should be a simple way to set up an organisation that could pull this together. Any ideas?