The London Evening Standard has very kindly used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain details of reoffending by those persons who were charged or cautioned over their involvement in the London riots of August 2011.
The information was published on the 10th February 2015, and portrays in general, a very bleak picture of their subsequent behaviour, and the effectiveness of the measures employed as punishment in the wake of the riots.
3,914 people were charged or cautioned by the Metropolitan Police for their involvement during the riots; of those 1,593 have gone on to commit at least one subsequent offence, the combined sum of which totals 5,878 new offences as of the end of 2014.
Almost a third (1,819) were drug offences, including 221 instances of trafficking; as well as 1,075 theft and handling offences, 451 robberies and 719 burglaries; 1,172 new violent offences, including 12 murders, 180 offences of wounding or GBH, and 151 involving a weapon; and 21 rapes, and 33 other sex offences.
These are serious offences which appear to have been committed by prolific offenders. The London Evening Standard has also helpfully provided a limited breakdown as to the numbers of offenders who have committed specific quantities of subsequent crime.
Of the 3,914, 164 adults and 34 juveniles were subsequently logged as gang members. The 1,593 reoffenders contained 168 of those gang members. Gang members constituted 17 of 107 persons who had committed 10 or more new offences; and 49 of 261 who have committed between five and 10 new offences. While one rioter has been particularly busy committing 72 subsequent crimes.
Deputy Mayor Stephen Greenhalgh, who is in favour of brining the entire criminal justice system in London under the control of City Hall, much like the system used in New York, has pounced on the statistics and issued a rallying cry of indignation.
“These figures show that some of them are still committing serious crimes and prove that the riots were fuelled by prolific offenders rather than low-level opportunists.”
These statistics do indeed show that some of the rioters are still committing serious offences; however I am less convinced by his assertion that this proves the riots were fuelled by the prolific rather than the opportunistic.
It may well be that the riots were instigated by the pre-existing prolific offender, and when chaos reigned supreme the opportunists thought they would join in without consequence. Admittedly not all of the 3,914 charged or cautioned have been released from prison, but most have, and if you take the figures as they are, the prolific subsequent reoffenders only account for 41 per cent of total sum. Therefore (please excuse my stating the obvious) 59 per cent have not reoffended (or at least have not been caught), and as such the claim made by the Deputy Mayor, that this proves the cause to have been prolific offenders, is far from the assertive statement of fact which he portrays it to be.
He furthered his criticism by stating:
“Even though the police have learnt the lessons of the riots, the wider criminal justice system needs to up its game and stop playing pass the parcel with these violent criminals…
We need to grip these offenders. Many have not been deterred, despite prosecuting them more quickly in 2011, and have gone on to rape and murder in some cases.
If we want the rhetoric of a rehabilitation revolution to become a reality in our capital city, then the Mayor must be given oversight of London’s criminal justice system.”
This raises another important issue. The rhetoric of the criminal justice system following the riots was of swift and certain punishment; courts were in session throughout the nights in order to hand out justice to those involved. Can we say therefore that the delivery of swift and certain punishment has failed? It certainly has not been an unmitigated success, but again I refer you to the 59 per cent who have not been classed as subsequent offenders as an indication that it may have been effective for some.
It is also interesting that the Deputy Mayor appears to use the failure of deterrence to promote rehabilitation. Deterrence clearly has not worked in some cases, and he has revived Ken Clarke’s rehabilitation revolution rhetoric.
However, rehabilitation was not at the forefront of considerations when sentences were passed in the aftermath of the riots. Their purpose was to deter, perhaps not entirely those sentenced, but certainly others in society; to send a statement that riots like those in London in 2011 would not be tolerated and participants would be punished. In that respect they have been effective.
In reality the Deputy Mayor has seen an opportunity to use these statistics to push for overall control of the criminal justice system in London to pass to City Hall. Despite the politics of his statements Stephen Greenhalgh is correct in that significant improvements need to be made in reducing reoffending, regardless of the statistics published by the London Evening Standard.