Will the Tories’ tough new stance on crime pay off?
Labour warns stop-and-search expansion ‘risks riots’
An expansion of stop-and-search, 10,000 new prison beds, an end to automatic early release and a renewed prison-building programme are among a raft of new measures announced by the government as part of Boris Johnson’s get-tough-on-crime pitch to voters.
Following his promise to create 20,000 new police officers in the UK by 2022, the prime minister hopes his £2.5bn prison reform package will “burnish the Conservatives’ credentials as the party of law” and forms part of “a domestic policy blitz to position his party for an autumn general election”, reports The Times.
BBC political correspondent Jonathan Blake says that “the government's focus on law and order will add to speculation that No. 10 is preparing for an autumn general election”.
Britain’s prisons system is currently operating at 97% of capacity “and there are fears that overcrowding is fuelling record violence and suicide”, says the Times.
As well as a push for tougher sentencing and ending the automatic release of serious criminals who are freed after serving half of their sentence, allies of the prime minister say he also intends to scrap plans made by David Gauke, the former justice secretary, to abolish jail sentences of six months or less for all but the most serious criminals.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, Johnson said: “At present, there are too many serious violent or sexual offenders who are coming out of prison long before they should. This cannot go on. I am afraid that as a society we have no choice but to insist on tougher sentencing laws for serious sexual and violent offenders, and for those who carry knives”.
The Daily Telegraph says “the issue has particular resonance for Mr Johnson because his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, 31, was one of the victims of black cab rapist John Worboys, controversially recommended for release by the Parole Board”.
As part of the government’s new tougher stance on crime, the Home Secretary Priti Patel has also announced an expansion of controversial stop-and-search powers to end what she calls a “knife crime epidemic”.
More than 8,000 officers across all 43 police forces in England and Wales will now be able to impose “section 60” laws on areas where they think violence could break out after Johnson lifted restrictions on their use.
These powers were reined in by Theresa May amid accusations the policy disproportionately targets ethnic minorities.
Official figures show that in 2017-18, black people were 9.5 times more likely to be searched than white people.
Despite these concerns, The Independent says “senior police officers have consistently argued that stop and search reduces violence and takes weapons off the streets, pointing to an increase in knife crime after May tightened rules in 2014”.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick said increased searches had seen “significant results” in London, while announcing a 15% fall in knife crime injuring under-25s.
Others, though, have questioned evidence of a link, with a recent study finding that stop and search does not significantly reduce knife crime and hinders policing by having a “detrimental effect on community relations”.
A Home Office study of targeted weapons searches in London found no statistically significant reductions in crime, and College of Policing research looking at 10 years of Metropolitan Police data “found only a weak relationship between stop and search and overall levels of the types of crimes the practice aims to reduce”.
Labour has been quick to condemn their expansion, arguing they could provoke unrest.
Diane Abbott, the party’s shadow home secretary, said: “History has taught the Tories nothing. Extending Section 60 powers over the summer is a tried and tested recipe for unrest, not violence reduction. This draconian approach shows that Mr Johnson's government has no real plans to invest in policing or a public health approach to tackling violent crime. They have opted to 'appear tough' instead of dealing with the root causes of crime”.
”Evidence-based stop and search will always be a vital tool in preventing crime, but random stops have only poisoned police community relations,” she added.