Prisoners in their own homes

Britain has the worst record in the Western world for house breaking, “tough on crime” Home Secretary Jack Straw admitted at the last Labour party conference, as he pledged 50m over the next three years to beat the burglars.

But a new survey by research company GfK GB suggests this cash boost may be too little, too late. As GfK GB managing director Steven Jagger says: “Many people in Britain believe they are facing a rising crime wave and see the need for increasingly tough restrictions on criminals, whether adult or child.”

The GfK research has direct relevance for marketers in many sectors. The more people are afraid to leave their homes, either through fear of being burgled while they are out or of being mugged on the street, the more money they will spend on in-home entertainment and security systems, and the less they will spend on restaurants, cinema and other out-of-home leisure services.

Indeed, a recent report from the London School of Economics into children’s consumption of media, “Young People, New Media”, highlighted the degree to which many parents effectively imprison their children in hi-tech PC, TV and video-equipped bedrooms because they are afraid to let them play on the streets.

The GfK study found that the majority (78 per cent) of UK consumers support detention before trial, while two-thirds support parole only for non-violent criminals. Two in three support capital punishment.

Half of GfK’s respondents thought that crime overall had increased over the past five years, while a third believed that crime levels had stayed the same. It should be noted, however, that the survey is a record of the public’s perception of crime, rather than of actual crime levels.

Respondents in the 16-29 and 50-64 age groups and lower income brackets were significantly more likely to think that crime had increased compared with other age or higher earning groups. Older respondents (aged 65 and above) or those in higher income brackets were more likely to believe that crime levels had stayed the same.

More respondents in the North and the Midlands thought that crime levels had increased, while in Scotland, far more respondents thought that crime levels had remained the same, or even decreased.

When asked about violent crime, a third of respondents believed that it had increased over the past five years, while 43 per cent thought it had stayed the same. Only 13 per cent thought violent crime had decreased.

Again, respondents in the lower income bands were significantly more likely to think that violent crime had increased in their neighbourhoods. Respondents in the 65-plus age group were more likely to believe that levels of violent crime had remained the same.

Perhaps surprisingly, fewer respondents in the South-east/London than in the rest of England thought that violent crime had increased. Scottish respondents were also less likely to believe that it had increased – nearly half believed that levels had stayed the same.

Two in five respondents claimed they, or a close member of their family, had been a victim of some form of crime over the past five years, although less than one in five had been a victim of violent crime over the same period. More men than women claimed to have been a victim of crime.

The higher income bands appear to have suffered more from crime. Those over the age of 65 are the least likely to have experienced it, whether violent or otherwise.

Paradoxically, given the image Northern Ireland has in the rest of the UK, Ulster had the least respondents who had fallen victim to crime. The greatest percentage was in the Midlands and the North. These regional differences seem to reflect figures for violent crime.

In the UK, most convicted criminals do not serve a custodial sentence but instead receive a fine or some form of community sentence, such as a curfew order, community service or probation. In the US, some states have adopted a “three strikes and you’re out” policy, whereby any criminal convicted of committing three crimes, regardless of the nature of those crimes, is given a prison sentence. GfK found overwhelming support for a similar policy in this country: nearly three times as many respondents supported the idea as rejected it (67 per cent as opposed to 23 per cent).

GfK’s Jagger points to a surprisingly high proportion of respondents who believe there are some crimes which deserve the death penalty. Sixty-four per cent agreed with this idea. But, he adds, when people were given fictional case studies and asked how individuals should be sentenced, their responses were much more lenient.

The greatest number of supporters of the death penalty was from the lower socio-economic groups: 70 per cent of DE respondents supported the death penalty compared with 54 per cent of AB respondents. Nearly 35 per cent of the highest earning group (25,000 and above) did not support the death penalty for any crime, compared with 23 per cent of the lowest-earning group (earning under 7,000). Students were also more likely to be against the death penalty, with 47 per cent opposing it, compared with 30 per cent of full-time workers and 21 per cent of housewives.

Those surveyed also admitted to wanting a clampdown on juvenile crime, with respondents saying that they would like to see people as young as 14 years old receive the same punishment as adults for committing a violent crime.

In fact, a high proportion of respondents wanted children younger than this to be subject to the full weight of the law. Nearly a quarter of respondents mentioned that children as young as ten or 12 should be sentenced as adults, while four per cent thought the age should be nine or younger.

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