Wednesday, May 25, 2005

"Give Prisoners The Internet"

You've got to admire the nerve of the pro-criminal lobby.

Prisoners should have internet access to help with education, resettlement and recreation, a report argues.
The report Internet Inside, published by the Forum on Prisoner Education charity, said this was essential to prepare inmates for life after release.

It also calls for them to have access to e-mail.

The government is planning to try giving prisoners the internet but only in an open prison, which the charity says is unduly cautious.

Forum director Steve Taylor said: "There really is something wrong with our prisons when countries such as Hungary, Greece and Russia provide internet access to prisoners but we do not.

The charity is funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Trust, a leading sponsor of anti-prison intiatives in the UK. I don't imagine many of its trustees live on sink estates.

It's not the first time I've come across Steve Taylor. Around 2000 he was a frequent commenter on the Tony Martin forums, berating the punitive, draconian prison system. I presume he's the Steve Taylor who in 2001 got 11,000 votes in Loughborough as a Liberal Democrat candidate.

His website has been drastically pruned. But thanks to the magic of the Internet Archive you can still read his views on the Bulger killers (he'd be happy to let his daughter marry one - a scenario which seems unlikely), an account of his own imprisonment, his relationship with his father and a whole lot more. His site speaks (or spoke) for itself. I don't think he's a bad person, although he does seem to think the Daily Mail is a bigger problem than 10 million crimes a year. Just another navvy laying down the good intentions on the road to hell.

When Steve stopped posting to the TM Forum I posted this valediction, which I've quoted bits from before. Here's the whole thing.

So. Farewell then
Steve Taylor.
Howard League Council member
Home Office Adviser
Victim both of burglars
And the racist, sexist, homophobic criminal justice system.

So Mr Steve Taylor says farewell - and an eerie calm settles over the TM forum. However, his visits have not been in vain. For Mr Taylor illustrates perfectly what pro-victim and anti-criminal campaigners are up against - so much so that pretty much every facet of the pro-criminal mindset which dominates our ruling elite can be detected in his utterances. Let us take a short tour around them ....

1. The 'right-on rebel'.

Perhaps the salient feature and characteristic hypocrisy of most pro-criminal campaigners is their possession (in their own minds) of the moral high ground, and their view of themselves as gallant strivers against the 'racist, sexist and homophobic' monolith of the British criminal justice system (CJS), while in fact being total establishment conformists. Despite the fact that "In the last twelve months I have participated in countless Home Office and statutory reviews, which often lead to new policy" he can still see himself as the outsider, the rebel - as long, of course as he stays well outside the evil CJS, preferring to reduce its effectiveness rather than actually getting his hands dirty. Although he is but one of tens of thousands of intelligent, literate (although if you're going to describe yourself as a member of the 'intelligentsia' you shouldn't spell it with a 'c' - sorry, couldn't resist that) people belonging to hundreds of well-funded pro-criminal organisations, he can see nothing strange in the incredible imbalance (which historians will surely mark) between the respective powers of the pro-criminal and pro-victim lobbies. The total media dominance (particularly in the BBC - where Guardian Man reigns supreme) of the pro-criminal view (with the exception of the Daily Mail, hence the undisguised, visceral hatred in pro-criminal culture of that paper and its readers) and the almost non-existent media presence of the pro-victim view, do not in the slightest affect his view of himself as fighting for the powerless against the powerful. So the victims, who urge greater punishment for the thieves and thugs who make their lives a daily torment, are somehow the powerful, and the criminals and their middle class allies, whose views are sought by a goverment which ignores victims, are somehow the powerless in his topsy-turvy moral world.

2. The abuse of language.

This is a general, though often unconscious, characteristic of the pro-criminal lobby - and following their cue, of many criminals. An example is the Sunday Times correspondent who wrote of the TM case "In an unbalanced and unfair society, the dispossessed will inevitably attempt to appropriate goods from the better-off". So, the criminal is one of the 'dispossessed', is he (i.e. - they once had something, but someone's taken it away) - who then dispossessed Fred Barras ? And the verb 'appropriate' - so much less judgemental than 'steal'. In Mr Taylor's Guardian article about his imprisonment, he tells that paper's readers he was sent to prison 'through a mixture of naivety and stupidity' (naivety and stupidity qualifying him well for a Home Office adviser under Jack Straw). That's the standard attitude - 'I made a mistake'. One longs, when reading a Guardian or Independent interview with a convicted criminal, for the interviewer to ask 'Oh yes - what was that mistake ? Was it not wearing a mask or gloves ?'. But give Mr Taylor his due - when posting to the TM forum he said 'what I did WAS wrong'. Maybe he's tailoring his remarks to his audience, but I like to think he means it. There IS some hope !

3. "Those who disagree with me are not merely mistaken, but morally at fault".

Those who urge that criminals should be punished are subject to personal abuse, often of a sexual nature ('you must be sick people who get a kick out of ....' is the standard approach here). For a mild (such abuse is often obscene ) example, when I questioned Mr Taylor's use of the phrase 'viciously punitive punishments' to describe the current criminal justice regime, and remarked that I hadn't noticed any, his response was 'You want to be notified so you can come and watch?' Hence the hatred of the Daily Mail and its readers - Mr Taylor and his ilk do not merely believe that the Mail is wrong about crime, but that it expresses evil ideas and encourages others to hold such ideas. And obviously people who hold evil ideas are themselves evil. Mr Taylor has said that 'The Howard League exists to encourage frank debate on penal policy, and put forward policy and ideas for the creation of criminal justice practice that will be more successful at reducing crime by offenders both first-time and new'. But in reality the League attempts to restrict debate and to make certain ideas unsayable and unthinkable - a policy in which demonising opponents plays its part. And there HAS been a criminal justice practice which both here and in the USA has reduced crime - sending more offenders to prison. But somehow I can't see the Howard League putting forward such a policy.

4. "I feel your pain - but my pain is worth more than yours."

The concept of 'hate crime' as a political weapon - where some categories of victim are more valuable than others - has in recent years crossed the Atlantic. Mr Taylor says that 'In the last twelve months I have participated in countless Home Office and statutory reviews, which often lead to new policy'. I would put good money that much of this work lies in the area of 'hate crime', as in recent months we have seen many pronouncements from the Home Office on these subjects, as well as well-publicised Metropolitan police offences against the 'problem'. The idea behind hate crime is a simple one - some victims are worth more than others, and therefore offences against such victims should be considered more serious (and, in an interesting contradiction with the usual pro-criminal line, should attract greater punishment). These more valuable victims currently consist of ethnic minorities, victims of 'domestic violence' and homosexuals. At this point I can almost feel Mr Taylor's blood pressure rising and the cry of 'See ? He doesn't care about domestic violence, racial attacks, attacks on homosexuals !' I think all of these offences are wrong and should be punished. But if I go out with Robin Cook on a Friday night for a tikka masala, and the yob in the queue calls me a 'four-eyed b******' then breaks my nose, before calling Mr Cook a 'Scots b******' and breaking his nose - I think the offences should be punished equally. In law the yob has committed a more serious attack on Mr Cook than he has on me - his offence is 'racially aggravated'. This category of offences is at present the only 'hate crime' recognised in law - but I'm sure Mr Taylor is pushing for more to be added. Previously British law had never been based on the motives of an assailant. Motivation might affect a sentence, but other than to ask the question 'did the accused know what he was doing ?' it had not considered that the assailant's THOUGHTS could affect the charge. With this legislation Orwellian 'thought-crime' is enshrined in law. Of course the above example merely shows that a violent thug will use whatever difference between himself and his victim first comes to hand to justify his assault, as violent thugs have done since time began (being 'different' has been dangerous for your health in many societies). The largest category of organised, planned serious UK crime in which hatred for the victims is a prime factor is probably that carried out by animal rights 'campaigners' against hunters and research workers. I call someone smashing a hammer into the face of a pensioner (as happened in Surrey a year or two back) a real hate crime, but it is unlikely that Mr Taylor will be pushing for animal rights activists to join the 'racists, sexists and homophobes' who people his mental Rogues Gallery. Similarly the 'hate crime' lobby made great play of the sad story of Matthew Shepherd, a young US homosexual attracted to rough men casually met in bars, two of whom turned out a bit too rough, beat him half to death and left him hanging on a fence to die slowly. An appalling crime - but many considered it worse because Shepherd was a homosexual killed by men who didn't like homosexuals. Yet when two US homosexuals recently kidnapped, raped and killed a young boy those who had condemned the Shepherd killing remained silent. Obviously that wasn't a 'hate crime'. The journalist Andrew Sullivan has commented on this silence at (link no longer functions).

5. Stay in Denial - the way to keep your idealism.

The pro-criminal lobby have reacted to the enormous growth in crime over the last 50 years with three distinct and successive strategies, the Three Stages of Denial. First, they denied that crime had increased at all - society was merely in the grip of periodic 'moral panic' on the part of the old or ill-informed, aided and abetted by those sinister forces in society (the Daily Mail again ?) who wanted more power for the police. The old had always criticised the morality of the young throughout history - therefore concerns about crime were not justified and were a cultural phenomenon - the result of the old failing to accept the new-found freedoms of the young. This argument was common in the 1970's - Stanley Cohen's book 'Folk Devils and Moral Panics' is a typical and influential example. But as the 1970s rolled on the inexorable increase in crime figures could not be ignored - a new explanation was necessary. So secondly, it was conceded that reported crime had increased, but that this was not due to changes in the actual crime rate, but due to changes in society. 'More people have phones, so it's easier to report'. 'More people have insurance, and so must report offences which they previously wouldn't have reported'. 'People report crimes now which they would have accepted in past times'. 'The police are inflating the figures to justify demanding increased resources'. The riots of the 1980s and 1990s and the flood of reports from the inner-city terraced streets and edge of town estates provided the evidence which finally killed this 'theory'. To quote Norman Dennis, 'by the mid-1990s ... the pernicious consensus was crumbling under the sheer weight of the facts that contradicted it'. It had only taken 25 years, years of unremitting rises in crime, for the fact of increased crime to sink in. But hang on, it couldn't be the criminals' fault. Whose fault was it, then ? Suddenly there was an avalanche of theories designed to explain the rise in crime that had previously been denied. Bad housing, unemployment, the design of estates - all manner of physical, mechanistic explanations for crime. And the greatest of these was poverty. From the Church of England's 'Faith in the City' report in the 1980s to the many reports of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Child Poverty Action Group, the message, put simply, was 'they thieve because they're poor'. And there was great political utility in this view during the Thatcher years. The same people on the 'left' who in the 1970s had characterised paid employment as soulless capitalist wage-slavery, the cause of alienation, suddenly decided that paid employment was a basic human right the ABSENCE of which caused alienation, of which crime was one symptom. Again put simply, the answer to the question 'whose fault was it, then ?' was 'THATCHER !'. So we have the third stage of denial - that yes, there is a lot of crime, but a) it's caused by poverty and our unjust society b) nothing can be done about it without relieving poverty/creating social justice. There is only one problem with this view - it's contradicted by all the evidence. The evidence in favour of the view is basically - 'many criminals are poor, therefore poverty causes crime'. Unfortunately our great-grandparents (or grandparents if you're decrepit as I am) lived in conditions of much greater poverty and committed practically no crime whatsoever. Ah, say the pro-criminals, but it's RELATIVE poverty that counts. Again, alas, relative poverty was greater in the 20's and 30's - and it was rapidly decreasing during the 60s and 70s when crime was rising fast. For a comprehensive demolition of the crime/poverty equation Norman Dennis' book 'The Invention of Permanent Poverty' available from is a rattling good read. But for Mr Taylor and his many, many political allies it is is almost impossible to conceive of crime as being the result of rational decisions taken by rational if unpleasant people. It must always be someone else's fault. Personal responsibility isn't a concept they're terribly keen on.

6. Private Violence Good - State Violence Bad.

One point here. A trawl through Mr Taylor's website and the contents of his many newgroup postings lead me to conclude that there is no evidence at all to suggest that this particular pro-criminal characteristic is shared by Mr Taylor. But the concept is so culturally entrenched, that it needs mentioning. Of course Mr Taylor is against state violence - given that he objects to imprisonment it's unlikely that hanging or flogging would make much appeal to him. But Western society glorifies private, criminal violence while deploring the violence of the state. Look at the iconography of 60's criminal London and its reworking by Guy Ritchie and others, the status of film-makers like Stone and Tarantino, the profitable market for books like Lenny McLean's 'The Guv'nor' or Kate Kray's 'Hard B******s', at the beatification of murdered rappers such as Tupac Shakur and the continuing glorification in rap and hip-hop music of values which Beowulf, Tamurlane and Attila would recognise. The sounds of South Central Los Angeles have as much appeal on the estates of County Durham and the Rhondda as in Harlesden or Chelmsley Wood.

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