Sentencing adviser warns against harsh riot punishments

Are harsh punishments really the answer?
Are harsh punishments really the answer?

By staff

MPs, police and the courts should "try to think beyond knee-jerk calls for punishment" in the aftermath of England's riots, a sentencing adviser has argued in an article for

Roger Graef, a filmmaker and criminologist who serves as an adviser to the Sentencing Council for England and Wales, argued that sending teenagers to jail would increase the chances of their younger siblings also going into crime.

Those who engaged in opportunistic criminality during rioting earlier this week are facing a severe backlash as magistrates impose harsh sentences. Prime minister David Cameron has made clear he expects all those who broke the law should expect to spend time behind bars.

At Croydon magistrates court earlier this week all but one of the defendants were refused bail.

Yesterday a 23-year-old man from Borough, south-east London, was jailed for six months after stealing a bottle of water from a Lidl supermarket in Brixton.

Mr Graef said sending many of those who committed crime to prison would only make the problems underlying the rioting worse, however.

"Do we really want impulse looters to become muggers, and muggers to learn how to do heavier crimes?" he wrote.

Moves to expel rioters from council housing "simply disgorge them onto the streets", he added.

"There is a form of justice which many of them take seriously – and are far more frightened of than courts, community service or even prison: restorative justice, in which offenders are confronted by their victim, or victims of similar crimes, and learn of the impact of their actions."

Mr Graef won a Bafta Fellowship in 2004 for lifetime achievement in 2004 after a career making films exploring policing and criminal justice policy. 


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