A media driven, highly politicised public protection agenda has led to thousands of prisoners being indefinitely detained, swamping the system and making it more difficult to protect the public effectively, according to a University criminologist.
At his inaugural lecture on Wednesday, Professor Mike Nash from the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies will challenge whether our modern system of public protection is really ‘better than ever’ or a political con. He will argue that politics has created an over cautious criminal justice system that puts too much focus on reassuring a nervous public about stranger danger and too little on where real risk lies. The result, he suggests, is a criminal justice system dominated by risk of harm assessments which impact hugely upon the professionals working in the system.
Using examples from recent crimes that have caught the public eye, his lecture will explore the changing nature of our criminal justice culture and the government’s multi-agency approach. Professor Nash believes that this highly bureaucratic system can have the opposite effect of what the government intended in that expertise within organisations can be diluted. He argues that the evidence shows that 80 per cent of serious further offences are committed by low and medium risk offenders, so concentrating resource on high risk criminals leaves large numbers of offenders supervised by less experienced and even perhaps non-qualified staff.
“Our current system fails to distinguish between those who represent a real danger to society and those who are less likely to re-offend in a serious way. Around twenty years ago it was estimated that the UK had around 300-400 really dangerous criminals. Today there are around 50,000 criminals on the UK’s dangerous offenders register and there simply isn’t the resource to make valid assessments of all of them. These numbers also do little to quell public fear.
“Entry into the public protection system, which can be awesome in its powers, is not as difficult as one might think. However, with so many going in, and a very cautious approach to downgrading their risk assessments, the ‘problem’ grows almost artificially. Does our society really now contain so many more dangerous people, or is that we feel more scared because of what we read about these -thankfully – still exceptional crimes.
“The number of people within the system is now so massive that it’s impossible for prison staff and probation services to get to know the offenders making up their caseloads, and knowing offenders is key to understanding who might offend again. It takes a professional considerable time and knowledge to understand the mind of an offender – human behaviour cannot be put into bureaucratic boxes. The key to effective public protection is to reduce the caseload and make assessment and management more effective. By keep making it larger we are simply engaging in a reassurance con.”
Professor Nash spent over 12 years in the probation service before moving to the University where he has spent another 20 years lecturing on criminology. He maintains strong links with the police and probation services for who he runs training courses with colleagues on dealing with dangerous offenders.
His lecture is taking place at the University of Portsmouth on Wednesday 25 April 2012 6-7pm. All welcome and admission is free but places are limited so please make your reservation by contacting 023 9284 3757 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Venue: University of Portsmouth, Park Building, King Henry 1 Street, Portsmouth PO1 2DZ