Crime rates have been falling consistently in Britain since a peak in the 1990s. This should be good news for politicians, but rather inconveniently it has fallen steadily under Conservative, Labour and now under LibDem/Conservative coalition governments. It has also fallen despite a drop in police numbers – down by 14,000 since 2010. It has fallen during times of recession as well as economic growth. It has also fallen during times of high immigration and rapid population increase. And, perhaps most inconveniently, it has fallen in most developed countries, regardless of whether they have adopted repressive or liberal policies.
Maybe it’s time for a complete, non-partisan, re-think about crime – and the causes of crime. Surely the evidence points away from prison regimes, longer sentences, economic causes or size of police forces.
Some underlying hidden, but generally positive, forces seem to be at work here and yet politicians and the media seem to be stuck on the same old analysis.
Evidence seems to be pointing at factors such as the removal of lead from paint and petrol, which used to cause brain damage in young people. More likely it was poison at work, not prison.
Head injuries often result in a reduced ability to assess risks, so it is no surprise that a significant proportion of prisoners suffered head injuries prior to offending. Cycle helmets probably reduce crime.
Over 70% of the prison population has two or more mental health issues and as many as 10% of the prison population are ex-service personnel, who will have been at risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Do we really want to stigmatise people with mental health issues, head injuries and former soldiers, or do we really want to understand the causes of crime, so that we can direct our toughness where it may actually do some good?
But perhaps that might just be too inconvenient for the police, the media, politicians and the armed forces.