Revenge and Punishment 60


The country is in a mood for revenge. The BBC reports that 200,000 people have signed a petition for withdrawal of benefits from those involved in rioting, while housing associations and councils have started to initiate evictions.

This is madness. If you believe – as I do, and David Cameron claims to – that these lootings were nothing more than simple criminality, then surely they should be treated no differently to ordinary criminal procedure. Criminals do not receive benefits while in jail anyway, whatever the Daily Mail may wish its readers to believe. But deprivation beyond that appears to be the aim of politicians now, wiht those not jailed losing their benefits and loss to those jailed extending beyond their sentence.

I support custodial sentences for many of the looters. I have absolutely no time for gangster culture. Many of these criminals have shown that decent people do indeed need protection from them – in the case of murderers, muggers and arsonists, for a long time. But the custodial sentence for the man who pinched two bottles of water was a totally irrational over-reaction.

If we have learnt anything about punishment in modern times, it is that prison purely as punishment and isolation does not work long term. The purpose must be rehabilitation, training and a better understanding of society and its obligations. There is not enough of this in custodial centres already. To add to it the idea that people should be returned to society in a state of enforced homelessness and with no income, is absolutely mad. There is no other word for it. A more certain way of causing future crime could not be found.


60 thoughts on “Revenge and Punishment

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  • Julia Guest

    I can see a real danger of creating a war against gang culture, becoming a great recruiting tool for gangs.

    The only way forward can be to create a world that includes and values young people. The current prospect following a poor education is a short, traumatic life in the Army or joining street gangs for a sense of inclusion and identity. Life skills are not taught in school.

    So many underlying issues here, disconnection from the natural environment, over emphasis on commodities. There has to be more to life than a pair of trainers and impressing the ‘hood’. Some serious engagement on how to make that so needs to begin.. how about handing over a Royal estate or Church owned land, for a bit of wild play for these kids to work out who they are and what they value, without wrecking the inner cities. Would it really be so hard to achieve? What better world can we imagine?

  • NomadUK

    Creating future crime has, of course, been the aim of those in government for quite some time now. It provides the excuse necessary to implement the police state, which is necessary to maintain the rule of the elite.

    The kettle keeps getting warmer, and the frogs just don’t seem to be noticing.

  • A. E. Housman (dec'd)

    Revenge is a valuable passion, and the only sure pillar on which justice rests.

  • Heisenberg

    Craig,

    How could you possibly believe that crime exists without a context? How can you bring yourself to see these acts – all in impoverished areas – as existing I some sort of Manachean idealist vacuum? Moreover, I have never heard anything more idiotic than the concept of ‘simple criminality’. It ‘simply’ does not exist; there is always a reason (a context) forcing the flow of events. You might as well have signed the petition as well. Honestly Craig, you’re sounding more right-wing day by day. A worrying development for any self-described human rights activist.

  • craig Post author

    Heisenberg,

    All social actions are in a sense caused. So do I have also to forgive Tony Bliar for the invasion of Iraq? Or is culpability only a concept applied to those with whom you do not agree?

    There is indeed such a thing as individual responsibility. Determinism which absolves from it is not a socially useful concept.

  • Dick the Prick

    Sub ed: criminal’s partners get increased child tax credit and Income Support when in the clink.

  • deQuincy'sGhost

    I agree.
    .
    Incidentally, I’ve seen the six month sentence juxtaposed with http://in2eastafrica.net/woman-jailed-in-uk-for-enslaving-tanzanian/
    .
    Ordinary crimes in an extraordinary situation, maybe, though it’d still be a difficult argument to make. I think all that’s being said really is that they don’t regard it as serious enough to require them to rethink anything or consider any changes. Still less, to reverse direction in the ways you suggest. Which I agree would be a healthier direction to be heading in.
    .
    I really do wonder if this government ever had the beginnings of a clue what they were doing. As the wise leaders that the country needs in such a time … well, they just aren’t, are they ?
    .
    “Neck deep in the Big Muddy, and the damn fools keep shouting to presss on”.

  • Heisenberg

    When analysing any event, one must bear two things in mind; first, the agency of the individual, and second, the context in which the individual and action emerges.

    Taking the first, one certainly arrives at the conclusion that the acts of the rioters were wrong. They were criminal acts against private property and against individuals who bore them no grievance. Accepting the social contract as the expression of the people’s will to be bound by law – for the sake of liberty and peace – one can accept that these acts represent the violation of the contract.

    Moving to the second position, that of context, we are forced to analyze things from a completely different perspective. Now, looking at things from this position does not absolve people of their individual responsibilty, but it does provide a window on ‘why’ certain behaviours become normalised and acceptable. In terms of contextual analysis, we can say that all of the areas where rioting broke out are on the poverty line – the Guardian’s datablog convincingly makes the case that there is a strong link between poverty and crime in regard to the riots. So we ask the question: where does this poverty come from? Does it have anything to do with austerity cuts to benefits? Does it have anything to do with the increasing gap between rich and power caused by a rabid neoliberalism? Does it have any relation to the trillions of pounds handed to banks – with no strings attached – in 2008 and beyond? Does it have anything to do with the increase in VAT, ofen regarded as a tax on the poor?

    Shifting gears, we are then forced to ask some broader cultural questions. We might ask whether such children have grown up in a culture of violence. We might inquire as to whether they are the victims of a culture built entirely around a profit motive? We might go even further and ask – for that is all we may do – whether the community from which such individuals emerge feels represented by the current political class; whether they feel they have a stake in society or not? More specific to the immediate context, we need to ask whether the death of Mark Duggan and the police assault on a 16 year old girl triggered this violence? This requires that we analyse the deplorable relation between the Met and black communities in London. Finally, we need to ask whether these events were forewarned. Did we not know that something of this scale was bound to break out, especially as the gap between rich and poor in the Uk is among the greatest in the western world? Did we not know that by closing down youth clubs, that a general state of lawlessness might emerge? Did we not secretly know that for every pound printed into existence and for every bailout handed over to the City of London, that the poorest in our society would be hit with higher inflation and cuts to public services? Did we really think that such measures would lead to calm and not violence?

    It seems to me that you have rushed to your own conclusions about these events without providing the necessary analysis of events. Worse still is your reaction to those who humbly suggest that your interpretation might be wrong. I have witnessed your slurs against the so-called ‘left’ and how you dismiss those with inquiring minds as being ‘demented’ and ideologically inspired. It is an old refrain and frankly a refrain born out of desparation.

  • pangloss

    So a little over a third of a percentage point of the human beings in the UK, over the age of 15, have signed a petition (i.e. 200,000 / 50,653,000 = .00395 ). You’d wonder why the BBC wouldn’t put some of that famous context around the number even just to hint at its significance, eh. Maybe they know Cameron et gang think .395% is a majority and this could his gov’t a mandate for collective punishment. Hey isn’t collective punishment a war crime. Oh forgot you guys don’t have a war on poverty so you’re not subject to the rules of war.

  • Tom Welsh

    “…these lootings were nothing more than simple criminality…”

    Actually, whether the law recognises this or not, I think they were aggravated by an element of conspiracy. The fact that many of the raids were deliberately planned and coordinated means that some people, at least, committed crimes much worse than just stealing and burning – namely, persuading others to do those things en masse. There was also the element of deliberately seeking confrontation with the police and others, in the sincere hope of doing harm (and perhaps even causing deaths).

  • Tom Welsh

    “The purpose must be rehabilitation, training and a better understanding of society and its obligations”.

    Nobly spoken, but short on practical details. The big question is how you set about rehabilitating someone who has cynically decided to reject obligations and duties, to ignore the law as and when he chooses (while claiming its support at all other times) and, presumably, is prepared to lie and deceive systematically.

    How can you tell if such a person has been rehabilitated, or is just stringing you along?

    As for “a better understanding of society and its obligations”, serious criminals probably have a better grasp of such things than the average law-abiding citizen. They merely choose not to accept the obligations.

  • Azra

    200,000 signed petition, and government is taking heed.
    two million marched against the war in Iraq, and what happened??
    Oh my , oh my..
    remind me of that country song ,,how did it go?? mad mad Lee Roy Brown, maddest man in the whole damned town..
    mad mad D Cameron…

  • craig Post author

    Heisenberg,

    The Guardian’s datablog makes no link between poverty and crime. If the deceased Mr Duggan appeared on it he would be shown as having no employment. You would therefore link him to poverty. Yet the widely publicised photo of him shows expensive jewellery, lots of it?

    It doesn’t show a connection between poverty and crime, it shows you are a gullible arse.

  • craig Post author

    In general I am not convinced poor people commit more crime. They may well get convicted disproportionately more often…

  • Uzbek in the UK

    In some cases it might not be fair for those who caused troubles to the society still being able to live (doing nothing) in the expense of that society. I have been on benefits myself while settling in the UK, but I was looking for a job, applying for every possible job and sending out around 20 applications in average per day. It took me over a year to find a job on which I have now been working for over five years. Benefits are useful for those who are looking for a job and doing their best to find one. But in some cases those who receive benefits discouraged to search for job and what is even worse they have a lot of free time to walk around their neighbourhood causing troubles to others.
    .
    Is it fair for one to work 10 hours per day, pay rent or mortgage, live in cold house or apartment in order to save on utility, shop around for discounts and see how their taxes are being spent on some of those who walk around their neighbourhood wearing hoods and cause them troubles when they are coming back from work?

  • deQuincy'sGhost

    “I can see a real danger of creating a war against gang culture, becoming a great recruiting tool for gangs”
    .
    I’ve seen comment comparing this with the “Rodney King” Los Angeles rioting. The similiarity I see is the concept of the police as “the most powerful gang on the streets”. The whole thing collapses down to the question of asserting the monopoly of organised violence. Which gets ugly … on the one hand, the closer push gets to shove the more I’d prefer it to be the coppers instead of any other gang that might arise, for the same reasons I’d prefer sort-of-elected politicians to the mafia. On the other hand, the only way that really works is to the extent that we can see clear differences between the two categories, rather than seeing them eroded. We have either a country that can be there for everybody in it, or we have a disaster.
    .
    Having said which, I should add that I am *not* saying that all the people involved were any sort of gangsters, just that there are people out there who will eventually take advantage if there’s room for them to do so.
    .
    I suspect that most of the people doing their various things in the middle of some sort of unexpected Saturnalia were nowt special. The writing I’ve seen from people who were there – particularly http://motowns.blogspot.com/ – has much more a sense of that than most of what’s coming from the various “professionals”. An interesting way of untangling it might be the stuff about “vigilantes” defending “their community”, which I thought I was hearing a lot of on Tuesday. Which, phrased like that, gave me a strong, and very frightening, impression of everything falling apart as we all start to feel we have to defend ourselves against the neighbours. Whereas, when we heard more from, for example, the dad of one of those people who got run over, it didn’t sound nearly so much like that.

  • dreoilin

    “it shows you are a gullible arse”
    .
    Well that’s nice.
    .
    Was there a price tag on the bling he was wearing? I only ask because chunky jewellery isn’t necessarily expensive. It’s amazing what you can look like in a photo wearing fake everything. [heh]

  • Uzbek in the UK

    Mr Murray,
    I think that there is a link between poverty and crime, as more deprived area is as more chances of burglary or robbery. But more obvious indicator of crime is when system fails to prevent crime by ignoring criminals (not potential criminals but real criminals). In almost every neighbourhood across Britain you can come across certain individuals who are being monitored by police as known ‘trouble makers’ but what stops police from acting? Why are these trouble markers being monitored? Why not arrested and questioned? And when government does everything to keep ‘trouble makers’ free (because they do not have enough space in prisons) that what is pushing crime up.

  • Roger

    “In almost every neighbourhood across Britain you can come across certain individuals who are being monitored by police as known ‘trouble makers’ but what stops police from acting?”

    If you are indeed an Uzbek, Uzbek in the UK, you should know that the U.S.S.R. dealt with known and suspected trouble-makers in just that way. They also had laws against such things as social parasitism, being unemployed, having no visible means of support, which meant that trouble-makers were easily and frequently imprisoned.
    However, the trouble-makers these laws were used against weren’t the kind of trouble-makers you are thinking of.

  • Johann Green

    @ Craig Murray

    You said: “The Guardian’s datablog makes no link between poverty and crime”

    Really? Try the following links then:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/aug/10/poverty-riots-mapped

    and

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/mar/29/indices-multiple-deprivation-poverty-england?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

    You said: “If the deceased Mr Duggan appeared on it he would be shown as having no employment. You would therefore link him to poverty. Yet the widely publicised photo of him shows expensive jewellery, lots of it?”

    I would assume no such thing. Firstly, because poverty analysis is context and geo-spatially located; it is not calculated door to door. Secondly, because unemployment is not necessarily linked to poverty in the first place – for all I know, there are people who are unemployed because they have come into money or because they are receiving benefits that would otherwise prevent them from being kicked onto the street. Your comment that there is a ‘widely publicised photo of him: showing “expensive jewellery” sounds more like the type of scornful lament best found in the Daily Mail. Just because one has jewellery – even lost of it – does not mean that they aren’t poor, or that they don’t live in an impoverished area. What a ridiculous ‘clutching-at-straws’ comment.

    You said: “It doesn’t show a connection between poverty and crime, it shows you are a gullible arse.”

    See above. Craig, I must take issue with your name-calling. I see absolutely no reason for it. You seem to think that any counterargument to your own is either a) ideological, specifically ‘left-wing’, or b) demented (often used in relation to the former). Then, when one raises legitimate concerns regarding your position, and provides a context AND agent based argument, you slander them as ‘gullible’. In my own view, it is infinitely more gullible of someone to believe that crime is context free and that the category ‘criminal’ is somehow uninformed by social context. Surely his is the absolute zenith of gullibility?

  • Uzbek in the UK

    If you are indeed an Uzbek, Uzbek in the UK, you should know that the U.S.S.R. dealt with known and suspected trouble-makers in just that way. They also had laws against such things as social parasitism, being unemployed, having no visible means of support, which meant that trouble-makers were easily and frequently imprisoned.
    However, the trouble-makers these laws were used against weren’t the kind of trouble-makers you are thinking of.
    .

    Roger,
    .
    There is not clear answer what is good and what is bad when talking about benefits and people who abuse them. Clear example is that in Uzbekistan (society many times poorer than UK) you can easily walk on the streets at night without fear of being robbed or kicked or punched. Millions of JOBLESS Uzbeks work abroad in Russia for example bearing intolerable cold just to make some money to feed their family (there are NO benefits in Uzbekistan). And yet there are GANGS of jobless youth in the UK who are doing NOTHING receive benefits and cause troubles to those who pay them benefits.
    .
    Is it fair?

  • mike cobley

    Absent some kind of crushingly oppressive dystopia, there will always been criminal niches of one kind or another, families with criminal tendencies or histories, and gangs. What poverty and squalor and unemployment and political powerlessness do is provide a pool of disaffected, despairing, resentful people who would be available when the touchpaper is lit. Add to that 30 years of ruthless commodification of life and culture, and the blandishments of brainwash advertising that insists that a person’s self-esteem is measured by the consumer goods they own – then those with nothing but an inchoate and burning desire for consumer glamour find that its an easy step from underclass prole to street-fighting bling liberator.

    And now I’m sure someone will furiously denounce me for having produced an ‘excuse’ for criminals. Hint – an explanation is not an excuse; personally I want to think harder and deeper about this than merely adopt the ‘Evict the crims’ policy.

  • dreoilin

    “Hint – an explanation is not an excuse”
    .
    How many times were we forced to repeat that when discussing the causes of terrorism? I had “appeaser” and “terrorist supporter” and even “IRA member” thrown at me by brainwashed Americans who had been fed the “they hate us for our freedoms” line.
    I don’t want to put up with the “appeaser” tag here, on another subject.

  • Jacob Green

    You said: “The Guardian’s datablog makes no link between poverty and crime.”

    Really? The links below beg to differ:

    Mapping the Riots with Poverty (Guardian 10 August 2011)
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/interactive/2011/aug/10/poverty-riots-mapped

    Indices of Multiple Deprivation (Look for riot flashpoints)
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/mar/29/indices-multiple-deprivation-poverty-england?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

    You said “Yet the widely publicised photo of him shows expensive jewellery, lots of it?”

    This sounds like the opinion of an exasperated Daily Mail reader. Not like you at all.

    You said: “It doesn’t show a connection between poverty and crime, it shows you are a gullible arse.”

    See above (link between poverty and crime). Why did you resort to calling this person names? You have done this on several occasions and it is most disappointing. So if someone disagrees with you they are either a) ideological (by which you mean, a ‘lefty), b) demented, or c) a gullible arse. I would imagine that entertaining an analysis of the context behind criminal behaviour, far from being gullible, is a sign of intelligence. Your own position, however, I would call gullible. Crime has a context. The agent of a crime has a context. This does not excuse the crime committed but it goes some way to understanding the possible reasons behind criminal behaviour.

  • mark_golding

    No, Craig is right there is no causal link between poverty and crime. What is true is that lone parent families live in poverty and their children tend to leave home earlier.
    .
    The Association of Chief Officers of Probation in their latest report said this, ‘A significant group of people in our society, part of our investment in the future, are complete outsiders.’ Almost two-thirds of the group were unemployed and only 10 per cent had an income of more than pounds 100 a week. Just one in five of the offenders had a job, compared with two in three of those interviewed for a similar study in the mid-1960s.’
    .
    From which they extrapolated and concluded that, ‘concluded that there was a ‘real link between poverty and crime’.

  • craig Post author

    Johann

    You say that possessing lots of valuable jewellery does not make you not poor. Are you really sure you mean that? Possession of wealth features in most definitions of poverty.

    My point is, as you well know, that criminal milieus possess more wealth than is captured in official statistics.

    My problem is that so many are anxious to co-opt the criminal spree to forward their political aganda, that they are unwilling to acknowledge that most of this violence was carried out by very unpleasant people indeed and have no wish to acknowledge any personal responsibility by the criminals.

    Also if you wish to characterise this as political protest, next time we have a real political protest how can we complain if we are kettled and pushed about. We should sharply differentiate political protest from looting.

    Kindly address my question about why the looter is less culpable than Blair for his crimes.

  • mark_golding

    I apologise – I should have said, Professor Bradshaw in his study in the North East of England said the majority of lone parent families are poor.
    .
    Thank-you Lorraine.

  • Clark

    As was pointed out on a previous thread, poverty takes many forms. There is the usual interpretation of lack of money. But there is also poverty of education, poverty of opportunity, poverty of diversity, etc.
    .
    Duggan is pictured wearing jewelry, so it is likely that he was not short of money. We cannot generalise from Duggan to all the rioters – Duggan’s shooting was the trigger, but I personally have no idea whether he would have been typical of the rioters and looters, or if indeed they could be typified. But whatever…
    .
    Let us (probably unreasonably) assume that the looters were both predominantly unemployed, and predominantly well-off from the proceeds of crime. What were their chances of being well-off without crime? Were they in a position to increase their wealth through non-criminal activities? What would be their social standing had they chosen to remain poorer?
    .
    Please note that none of these questions are a justification of criminal actions nor a call for refraining from punishment – I seem to have to add this qualification or stand accused of approval of criminality. But it may help us understand how things came to this, such that we can avoid a recurrence or further escalation.

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