In the 28 January issue I ran a story about two murderers who escaped from prison in England. I noted the story was an example of “zero tolerance” mentality migrating to the real world:
The Public Be Damned
Two convicted murderers are among 13 escapees from a prison in Sudbury, Derbyshire, England, in recent months. But most of the men, including the murderers, are still at large because police won’t release their photos, since that could breach their human rights. “When making a decision to release any photograph, police forces must take into account numerous factors including the public interest test,” lectured a police spokesman, “whether there is a strong local policing purpose and, of course, the Human Rights and Data Protection Acts.” So now what? The spokesman said by escaping, the felons “abuse the trust we have placed in them,” and “it’s up to us to trace their whereabouts.” (PA)…While it’s up to the public to worry about how the police abuse the trust we have placed in them.
My tagline led to this reader complaint:
I believe you erred in blaming the law enforcement officials of abusing our trust. They did not pass the Human Rights and Data Protection Act. They are simply left with, I am sure, the unwelcome job of complying with it? Please place the blame where blame lies. In this instance, with the members of Parliament, or perhaps the European Union, whichever is responsible. –Tom, Texas
I did place the blame where it lay: on the police. Their blind adherence to what they perceive as the letter of the law, instead of applying some thought or common sense — zero tolerance — is the problem, not the privacy law. Indeed, it went far beyond (as one of the stories this week notes) the “absurd threshold” in their interpretation, which is fairly common in ZT cases.
And that’s not just my opinion. The London Times reported that the Lord Chancellor was furious at the police for their decision, calling it “absolute nonsense.” Britain’s Department for Constitutional Affairs noted that the Human Rights Act explicitly allows police to print “wanted” pictures if it’s in the public interest. Surely the public in the area is “interested” to know about escaped murderers running around!
But in that report there was this perplexing detail: The escapees, “[Jason] Croft, also known as Jason Fox, from Salford, and [Michael] Nixon, of Blackley, Manchester, were near the end of life sentences for murder and had been given day release and allowed home visits” when they escaped.
They were “near the end” of life sentences?! Oh, how the language has been twisted by our courts! Both had received “life” sentences in 1996 for killing teens. That they’re nearing the end of their “life” sentences after just a decade makes a mockery out of the concept.
What’s Your Life Expectancy?
Britain used to hang people for willful murder; now a kinder, gentler sentence is “life” — but they’ll only do that if they can let them out after awhile. You know, after they’ve learned their lesson.
I’m not much of a proponent for the death penalty (I think it should be reserved for particularly heinous crimes), but the system can go too far in the other direction, too.
Anyway, despite the political pressure, the Derbyshire police still defended its position. It said the murderers had been assigned a “low risk” before the Prison Service “transferred them from a closed to an open prison.”
Gee: do you think if they realized the guys were a flight risk they might have made a different classification decision?
After the criticism, the police did in fact release the photos, proving that “human rights” laws indeed didn’t prohibit the idea. As far as I can tell, Nixon is still on the lam; Croft was captured.
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