At the Police Federation's annual conference, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was told that she and the Government had created a "Hokey Cokey" Criminal Justice System. Police representatives made it clear that they are frustrated with the system that allows convicted felons back on the streets too easily. They claim the system is failing the law-abiding public, those which it is meant to protect and serve. Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation, said "Rather than addressing the real problem of ineffective sanctions, ineffective education programs and ineffective rehabilitation, the focus is on us, the police, to detect the same people more often and bring them before the courts again and again."
One key part of the problem is the 'early release' scheme. The rising number of successful convictions and, by extension, incarcerated convicts across the UK and a lack of prison space for them encouraged the Government to allow certain offenders that had served about half of their sentence back onto the streets and into police beats. But discouraging numbers of reoffenders, as many as 70 per cent of those released, put a serious amount of stress on law enforcement and the courts. It exposes the public to dangers that the justice system would have protected them from.
And policemen are bearing the bulk of the weight of the problem. When convicted criminals are allowed to leave prison after serving only part of their sentence, the supposed consequences of a life of crime- such as tough sentences- are undermined. It can hardly be expected for a system that appears to show more concern for the rights of those that deliberately violate the law rather than those harmed by criminal behaviour to command respect. This process challenges much of the difficult and dangerous work policemen see in the line of duty.
The financial costs to the taxpayer are considerable too. Rearresting, retrying and reincarcerating the same offenders repeatedly is expensive. Part of the argument for the early release schemes are that building more prison space and expanding rehabilitation centers is costly and unpopular with the public. Public safety and law enforcement are not issues the government should be trying to pinch pennies in, if that increases costs down the line. Does it make sense to send the same criminals through the system time and time again and expect taxpayers to foot the bill of expensive trials and police work for criminals the system failed to rehabilitate?
Jaqui Smith needs to remember in her plans to revamp the police force whom she is serving; the law-abiding, tax-paying citizens that are placed in harms way by allowing criminals to run free. The Police Federation are skeptical of her leadership and abilities already, and a lack of faith in the system is not encouraging.