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Charles Dudley Warner once said “The faculties for getting into jail seem to be ample. We want more organisations for keeping people out.” With the election recently of the coalition government and their proposed ‘Big Society’ initiative, how will the fight to prevent crime look in the near future?
Firstly, it’s worth stopping to think about the causes of crime in today’s society. It is widely accepted that the majority of crime results from economic hardship or inequality- if everyone possessed a car, and the same car at that, there would be little place in the world for car theft. Another prevalent cause of crime in recent times, ultimately also economic at heart, is the proliferation of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Once a person becomes addicted to such a substance, as can happen all too easily, the habit must be fed. Since the drugs do not come cheap, sooner or later most users have to resort to criminal means to support their addiction. Worse still, over time larger and larger ‘hits’ are required to get the same level of response from the body, so the crimes become more are more serious. One final factor, and potentially a major one in the current difficult economic climate, is a lack of educational and/or employment opportunities. Most are willing and able to live according to their means but for some a life of crime can seem the only way to survive.
So how will the ‘Big Society’ work to attempt to solve these problems and reduce the necessity and temptation to resort to crime? In theory, it has the potential to be a very effect prophylactic, with local organisations empowered to tackle local issues as power is decentralised. On the face of it, this appears a preferable solution compared to sweeping measures issued from Whitehall with varying degrees of relevance to individual communities.
Theory and practice are, as evidenced countless times throughout history, very different animals and many critics of the ‘Big Society’ doubt its ability to truly improve lives in this, or any, area. Particularly in the climate of a very weak economy, these doubts seem valid. Some possible solutions to be introduced as and when the particular causes identified locally demand could include:
– schemes to provide vocational training and qualifications for those out of work
– publicly funded programs to generate new jobs
– more creative system of punishments to more effectively deter would be criminals
– legalising, fully or partially, drugs which are currently illegal
The first two of these require little explanation. Both help to reduce the issue of insufficient opportunities to live a decent life within the law by ensuring more jobs are available and that the workforce are better equipped to meet the requirements of those jobs. The latter two are a bit more radical, particularly the last, but still have a good deal of merit. The very fact that crime persists in being such a problem in our society suggests that the deterrents in place are not as effective as they might be and it is often claimed that prisons are breeding grounds for more crime. Putting criminals to work in projects designed to improve the community is one possible alternative. Another is a positive motivation based scheme rewarding offenders for not committing further criminal acts.
The issue of legalising drugs is an especially complex and controversial one but one argument has it that the societal problems result from the very fact that these substances are illegal. This illegality puts control of the supply and, more importantly, the pricing of narcotics into the hands of drug dealers, who are, like many businessmen, rather more concerned with the success of their enterprise than that of society as a whole. Removing the veil of this criminal nature would leave the government, be it local or centralised, with more power to manage the issue of drug use, possibly reducing addicts’ need to commit crime to pay for their next dose.
Unfortunately these suggestions all require the spending of money which is badly needed in many areas of society and is currently in such short supply. The deep cuts in public spending implemented by the government this summer have made it very difficult to do more to actively prevent crime, while simultaneously exacerbating many of the causes.