Philip Johnston writes in The Telegraph:
If Britain today jailed the same ratio of people relative to the number of the most serious offences - burglary, robbery and violence - as it did in 1954, there would not be 80,000 behind bars, but 300,000. It may well be true, as penal reformers maintain, that there are some people in jail who ought not to be; but by the same token, there are an awful lot who should be who aren’t.
I’m reminded of Danny Boyle’s fine 2004 film Millions about a family that moves into a new suburban development in England. One interesting (and no doubt realistic) aspect is the fecklessness of the British police. An ineffectual-looking copper with an intellectual’s beard addresses a neighborhood meeting (dialogue roughly remembered):
Bobbie: “Christmas is coming so it’s a statistical certainty your house will get robbed. But that’s what we’re here for!”
Subject: “To prevent robberies or to catch the criminals?”
Bobbie: “Neither, of course. But after you do get robbed, we will give you your official victimization number so you can file a claim with your insurance company.”
The last time I was in England was in 1994. I recall having lunch at an office park in a suburb of Oxford — about the safest-looking environment imaginable — and local co-workers spent their entire lunch telling me about their cars getting stolen.
Like the British government in Anthony Burgess’s 1962 dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, the British Government has gone for largely technocratic techniques to fight crime, such as huge numbers of surveillance cameras. These appeared to have been making some progress in recent years, but they are obviously vulnerable to being overwhelmed by mobs taking the simple precaution of wearing bandanas over their faces.
As for the racial composition of the rioters, the press has obviously been reluctant to provide impressions. Presumably, the core are black, with lots of whites joining in — a testament to the greater degree of black-white amity in England than in America. There were major Muslim riots in 2001 in the north of England, but I can’t tell about these yet.
Here’s what I wrote for UPI a decade ago about press coverage of riots in Northern England:
News coverage of the recent race riots in Northern England has been highly confusing to American readers. Many of us have had a hard time deciphering even such basics as which racial group has been doing most of the rioting. So, here is a quick guide to understanding who the rioters have been.
The first problem faced by readers is the elite press’ aversion toward publishing unpleasant facts about people of non-European descent. Just as the New York Times had been reluctant last April to use the word “rioting” to describe Cincinnati’s large-scale African-American rioting, the Times was squeamish about making clear to its readers that most of the criminal acts in Bradford, Burnley, and other English industrial cities has been committed not by whites, but by what the British call “Asians.”
For example, nowhere in New York Times’ reporter Sarah Lyall’s July 8th story on the Bradford brouhaha, “Race Riot in Another City in Northern England Is Worst So Far,” does she ever directly say that Asians made up the main mob. One might think that when reporting on a race riot, the identity of the race doing most of the rioting would be the single most important fact. Yet, a reader of this account in America’s “newspaper of record” would have had to be alert enough to connect clues in two separate paragraphs to get a hint of this essential detail.
Since then, an organization of Bradford’s Asian businessmen has taken out an ad in a local newspaper apologizing to the community on the behalf of the law-abiding majority of Asians for the actions of some violent Asian youth.