In the Media

'Bad parent' state is failing to halt crime, says policing minister

PUBLISHED April 22, 2012

The state acts too often as a "bad parent" towards offenders as it tolerates bad behaviour before responding harshly, the policing minister Nick Herbert will say on Monday.

In a speech in Washington, Herbert will argue that the state needs instead to act as "the good parent" which sets clear rules and boundaries.

Writing for the Guardian, before his speech to the annual Jerry Lee Crime Prevention Symposium in Washington, Herbert says: "When cautions are handed down repeatedly, fines aren't paid, or community sentences aren't rigorous, a damaging message is sent to offenders. The state too often acts like a bad parent, neglectful in repeatedly tolerating bad behaviour, then inevitably harsh. Like the good parent, the state should set clear rules and boundaries from the start, dealing with transgression swiftly and surely to prevent escalation."

Herbert will tell his audience that the coalition government is lining up alongside some politicians on the right in the US who are questioning the "decades-old mantra that an ever higher rate of incarceration is the best way to fight crime". The minister will say that the British government has embarked on a "rehabilitation revolution" which is attempting to reduce Britain's high levels of reoffending by paying voluntary, private and public groups by results if they succeed in cutting reoffending rates.

But he says that crime must be prevented in the first place, and it is not just the responsibility of the police. "Many local agencies, including health organisations and local authorities must share this responsibility, and so must citizens," Herbert writes as he criticises Labour's reliance on "expensive but poorly targeted programmes".

The minister accuses Labour of largely ignoring family breakdown, welfare dependency and school discipline. "Today's offenders grew up in New Labour's years," Herbert writes.

"So the solution must lie in programmes that are locally delivered, free from central micromanagement, and specifically targeted. The work on troubled families launched by the prime minster after the riots last summer demonstrates the new approach. Delivery is being left to professionals, the focus is on outcomes, and we will be paying for results ? a reduction in youth offending."

There must be consequences for offending. "The first instances of wrongdoing ? very often nuisance or antisocial behaviour ? must be dealt with effectively," Herbert writes.

The state should not be afraid of punishment though treatment is often needed, Herbert says as he calls for a "smart" approach to crime.

The minister writes: "Offenders with mental health issues should be identified as early as possible. Those with substance misuse problems should be put on courses which clean them up rather than just maintaining the habit.

"Being smart on crime does not mean being soft headed. Crime should never be excused and offenders should not be treated as victims. Getting them back onto the straight and narrow should be a rigorous task where we demand results, not a misplaced act of compassion."

Herbert says he has borrowed the "bad parent" analogy from Mark Kleiman, professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.