Monday, 12 April 2010

More thoughts on the CRB

I remember being taught that punishment for criminal activity was justified on several grounds, one of which was deterrence. The theory behind that was that we stop people from committing crimes in advance by instilling in them the prior knowledge that they will be caught, that they will be punished, and that the punishment will be unpleasant.

That seems rather quaint these days. There is, now, no expectation of capture, and certainly no expectation of a serious punishment if caught.

The CRB is a tacit admission of this by Labour. It is based, essentially, on the premise that there is no real deterrent effect in our criminal justice system - so therefore we need to stop someone from committing a by some other means - we need a means of prevention, not deterrent. There is a huge problem inherent in this approach.

First, it can (obviously) only stop the second & subsequent offences by a person. Before they committed their first offence, their CRB check must be clear.

More seriously, if there is no real expectation of capture, as we are admitting by establishing the CRB as our main defence, then there will be no past criminal record to find in a CRB check. This should really be an obvious point (although the manner in which the CRB is discussed suggests that people do not seem to realise it): the CRB check does not list a person's offences. It lists their convictions - i.e. the offences of which they have been accused and found guilty. A clear CRB check simply shows that the person has not been caught (yet?)*. So if we no longer catch most criminals, most CRB checks will be clear. And if we start to regard a clear CRB as a sign of trustworthiness, we delude ourselves.

Exactly the same applies to the new Independent Safeguarding Agency, for the same reasons.

Which leaves us with one question. If we took the budgets of the CRB and the ISA, and gave them to the Police forces, what could they achieve with that?

* Equally, a positive CRB check only shows a conviction, not that the person is guilty...


  1. I fear the answer to your question, without a significant change in priorities, is 'more persecution of smokers, motorists and people who transgress one of the many, many new politically correct laws'...

  2. I'm not sure that this is right Patently. I think it is obvious that deterrence doesn't always work and that you also need prevention (surely both of these have always been at work in our penal system?).

    The Church has learnt the hard way that abuse is compulsive. Whether they think they are going to get caught often doesn't enter into it (hence abusers often re-abuse on release from prison). Indeed, psychologists tell us that abusers have already rationalised their behaviour so that they don't think it is wrong (thereby falsifying relative morality), so they are genuinely feel victimised when they get arrested.

    This is such a problem that in the 1970s reputable freedom of speech associations (some of which included individuals who are now members of the Government) defended the right of Paedophile groups to have an information exchange - see here at about 10.10). The point is clear, abuse cannot be left to individual organisations to deal with, with the best will in the world, they will make mistakes.

    It is right that CRB should only list their convictions. A sizeable proportion of accusations turn out to be false (indeed are falsified). It is clearly wrong that an innocent person be a marked man for the rest of his life because of a mistaken or a vindictive accusation.

    When all this child protection started coming out, I thought it was offensive and wrong. I have long since ceased to think that way.

  3. Julia - indeed, they would need to be told what to focus on...

    Albert - I'm not arguing that deterrence alone is sufficient; quite the opposite. My argument is that we seem to have given up on deterrence, allowing conviction rates to drop and sentencing to become more lenient to the point where whether they think the behaviour is right or wrong no-one has a serious expectation that criminal behaviour will lead to a serious sanction.

    In such circumstances, reliance on CRB checks will inherently be pointless. Even if you take the view that CRB-checking is the right way to go, a functioning CRB system needs to have a dataset of convictions that, by and large, corresponds to someone's criminal behaviour. The CRB check is being used as a proxy for someone's morality and trustworthiness, and for this to be a valid proxy there must be a correlation between the two.

    Today, can we seriously expect this to be the case? If we are burgled, do we really expect the Police to find, prosecute and convict the offender? Do we see a clean driving licence and assume the driver never speeds? Are we surprised when a sex offender turns out not to have a criminal record?

    You raise the question of the Catholic church, and that is quite relevant to the debate. How many of the offending priests had a prior criminal record? None, I suspect - meaning that they would all have passed a CRB check (as Ian Huntley would have). That is why I pointed out that a CRB check only lists convictions - if we are not also prosecuting and convicting people, then eventually a CRB system will become a pointless waste of time.

    Ah, but you may say that if someone has been convicted of an offence that is the result of a compulsive behaviour, we should keep them away from areas where they may re-offend. I would say, simply, that this is the purpose of the sentence given to them for their behaviour. If they are not yet safe to release, do not release them - or release them on terms that restrict them to safe behaviours.

    Instead, though, this database-obsessed government creates a huge database that will not solve the problem and which places a further burden on the innocent.


  4. My argument is that we seem to have given up on deterrence, allowing conviction rates to drop and sentencing to become more lenient

    That is often the case, but not, I think in CRB related issues. In the 70s abusers might be let off with a fine, now they go to prison. Perhaps sentences are still not harsh enough though.

    How many of the offending priests had a prior criminal record?

    Actually quite a few of them did. The papers often speak of "cover-ups" when what really happened was that a priest might have been convicted, and then returned to the community. A decade or so later, a new bishop who doesn't know the case, or does know the case but thinks that as he's not reoffended in the meantime, it's safe to put him back in a parish, does so. The Church has fallen foul of its own compassionate belief in repentance and conversion.

    Under CRB these priests would always have judged a risk and would not be returned to ministry.

    If they are not yet safe to release, do not release them

    Well quite.

    - or release them on terms that restrict them to safe behaviours.

    And how do you suggest that be policed without CRB (or something like it)?

    Don't get me wrong, there is real madness about aspects of this. We are paranoid about child abuse, even while we sexualise our children and lower the age of homosexual consent to 16 - to the delight of people, who, in the past we classified as child abusers.

  5. The CRB system is a government cash cow that punishes those with minor offences (some innocent) dating back years into childhood -

    These offences should be cleared as a matter of recourse after years of good behavior like they do in the USA. Otherwise what is the point of the rehabilitation of Offenders Act? What future do we offer our lost generations, if the only people considered for jobs are foreign immigrants that do not need a CRB and have never had one in their own country or a child killer who gets freed early from prison - with a new identity, a home and the job of the guy that had to declare a shoplifting offence 20 years ago when he applied. Britain will turn into a ghetto in the coming years mark my words. Its heading that way now.

  6. The CRB system is a disgrace and intrusive. An enhanced check shows things that you have not even been convicted for. I thought this country had the motto "innocent until proven guilty". No such look I'm afraid an employer can look at information compiled by the police about you that you have not been convicted for its make your mind up time Mr employer is he a paedophile isn't he a paedophile or maybe there a killer when there's no evidence to back it up a complete joke another revenue accumulator at £44 a time all going back into the governments pocket into some MP's dodgy expenses account that he wont be held responsible for.