Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Killers freed to kill again- flawed arguments

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The Telegraph has an article about how many lifers released from prison go on to kill each year. Apparently, 30 people on a life licence have gone on to kill after their release in the last decade. The Telegraph argues that this shouldn’t have happened because they ‘should have been under the supervision of the probation service’, implying further that they weren’t under the supervision of the probation service. It’s not possible for them not to be under the supervision of the probation service- if they have a life license they remain under supervision for the rest of their life. They may not have been being monitored very closely – either due to staff shortages or that they had had the ‘reporting’ element of their license revoked- but that is a different matter.

These figures have led victims groups to call for longer sentences but this argument is flawed. The problem is not that these people served too short a sentence but that the decision  made to release them was, potentially, a bad one- keeping people in prison longer is not necessarily going to make them less risky.

Tagged on to the end of the article is this sentence: Three killed again while still in prison. So, what do we do in this circumstance? Put them in solitary confinement so they can’t kill anyone? Or let them out so they can’t kill anyone when inside? Or, maybe, it doesn’t really matter if prisoners get killed in prison.

It would be interesting to know at what stage people killed while on licence- if it was a relatively short time after release then it could indicate a bad parole decision or, possibly, that more support was needed to help the transition into the community. If, on the other hand, they killed a long time after release then I don’t think the parole board can be blamed- they were clearly safe at the time of release and something probably happened which then increased the risk they posed. The probation service could be blamed in this circumstance for not providing enough support or close enough monitoring but then, as the measurement of risk is based on someone’s past behaviour, it makes sense to re-evaluate risk on a regular basis if their behaviour changes.

It’s only possible draw any meaningful knowledge from this kind of statistic if background information is provided. Otherwise, it’s just empty scare mongering and to use it as a basis for increasing prison sentences is irresponsible populism on the part of the Telegraph victims groups.


Written by criminologyandstuff

February 4, 2010 at 2:46 pm

Posted in criminal justice

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