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I was at dinner with Lord Justice Scott Baker (he of Diana inquest fame) last week: the food was mediocre and the wine execrable but the Judge did have some valid points to make. Given that we promised to be tough on the causes of crime as much as crime itself, it was interesting to hear a legal professional make the point that by the time young people get the attention and care that they need, they have often offended. Part of me thinks that this is a real failure of the system given that we only intervene once something has gone wrong. But the other part of me is sceptical as to how much a government, either through legislation or expenditure or whatever, can achieve on its own.

With this in mind that it is perhaps interesting to think what the causes of crime are. Social breakdown is certainly one. A lack of economic prospects perhaps another. Many would argue that the move away from a traditional family structure plays a large part. In all of these cases though, the government can only play a minor part in the solution.

I asked the Lord Justice whether he thought that building ever more prisons and locking ever more people up demonstrated a real lack of imagination from us as a society. This was in response to his stating that the money being spent on prisons could be better spent at an earlier stage. He agreed but also higlighted the problem: the tabloid press screaming for ever harsher and harsher sentencing when more nuanced punishments would often be appropriate.

How any party that wants to look electable even starts to try and debate a nuanced criminal justice policy is beyond me. But until we do, I fear much more money is going to be wasted on sticking plaster remedies.

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