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Howard League blog · 10 Nov 2017

Thoughts on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s address to the Howard League AGM

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, was invited to give a lecture at the Howard League’s most important event of the year, our AGM. She used the opportunity to call for more young children, in effect more black boys, to be sent to prison and for longer.

Each year a criminal justice luminary is invited to give a lecture on an area of their expertise to the Howard League, a charity. We invited the Met Commissioner to give a lecture at the end of a full day’s conference when the focus had been on the successes achieved by police across the country at reducing crime and community contact with the criminal justice system.

We had heard from chief constables and from the Assistant Commissioner in the Met, who talked about its success at reducing child arrests. The Commissioner was briefed about the Howard League’s work that has resulted in a two-thirds reduction in child arrests across the country, and she was invited to talk about the work of the Met.

Her talk was therefore an odd experience. She did not deliver a lecture, it appeared to be more a few unconnected thoughts presented as challenges to the audience. There were about 100 people in the room, including former prison governors and academics as well as people who had been through the system.

Cressida Dick talked emotionally about young black men dying through knife crime. We all share that concern, the challenge is how to save lives, and I was hoping that she would explain how the police might achieve that as, she herself pointed out, the Met is currently failing.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons recently said there was not a single institution in this country holding children that could be considered safe

David Lammy has done a fantastic job of confronting the issues facing BAME young people in London and how we can reduce crime when they are both victims and perpetrators. Cressida Dick’s exposition did not, however, provide a considered understanding of the research and the lived experience of young black (and young white) people in London. Instead, she focused on her personal view that we should send certain younger children to prison earlier and for longer.

The direct inference from her comments was that this would impact on young black boys living in London, aged from around 13 to 15. The Commissioner made this proposal whilst acknowledging that the boys she spoke of are all too often both victims and perpetrators, being criminally exploited by gangs from a young age. She presented no evidence that this would prevent crime, that it might save lives, that it could foster good behaviour – because there is none.

Cressida Dick was talking about young black boys. She acknowledged they are often both victims and perpetrators, being criminally exploited by gangs. The Chief Inspector of Prisons recently said there was not a single institution in this country holding children that could be considered safe. If the answer to this problem is to lock 13- or 14-year-old black boys up for the remainder of their childhood in institutions sometimes described as ‘warzones’, then that is a counsel of despair.

Senior police have traditionally steered clear of commenting on sentencing and punishments. Just as judges have steered clear of commenting on operational policing. It was rather surprising that the head of the Met chose not to talk about things that are within her power to act on, but instead to focus on areas outside her expertise and responsibility, particularly when there are some good stories to tell about the work of her organisation.

The Howard League provides a platform to senior practitioners to discuss issues of public concern. Sir James Munby gave a thoughtful exposition of the role of the family courts at a Howard League lecture a week ago. Last year at the AGM Michael Spurr gave a talk about the challenges facing prisons and probation, and Nick Hardwick gave a lecture on parole when he had just taken over as Chair of the Parole Board. These people talked about what they were responsible for.

I welcomed the appointment of the first woman to head the Met Police. I welcomed Cressida Dick as that person and I was pleased to invite her to lecture at the Howard League AGM. But she did not give any advance notification to the Howard League about the content of her speech, despite requests to do so. I was disappointed that she chose not to use this opportunity more constructively.


  • John P Reid says:

    She called fo more younger people to be imprisoned,so by that you assume that she meant more young black boys,

    • John OGrady says:

      I also made this point and a few more about how I felt this article was rather one sided about the Met Commissioner. They clearly filter responses that are critical of their view. I find it amazing they expect to vet the speakers similar to the way Academia is doing currently. If she had submitted her speech in advance what would Ms Crook have done, had a word in her ear!

  • Marcus Collinson says:

    Youth Institutions are indeed war zones and a magnification of the environment from which many have been removed. There has been a complete change of direction from when Mr Gove was in charge of prisons and a return to lock up and forget.
    Holland reformed youth penal system and the positive effects can be seen. Scandinavia and Spain interesting alternatives also (yes we can site faults with these and exceptions) but it involves investment and long term commitment not in keeping with short term political solutions based on re election .
    I am concerned given the comisioner’s speach and subsequent editorial from the mail and telegraph that it is all part of this governments new direction in line with the Trump judicial administration of increased sentencing across the board..
    I voiced my concerns re increased acid attacks more than 18 months ago when the mayor of London said we need to be tougher on nice crime. Like everyone I want a stop to knife crime and now the use of acid my point then as now is why the willingness to use. Life sentence has always been available for gbh so pontificating about new laws and toughness to me is a smoke screen.
    Poor mental health for the youth cuts in all youth services and activities such as free swimming have all gone. Youth stand on street corners and seek to earn fast money. Most youth in prisons were kicked out of school placed in pupil federal units the majority of which have poor performance for varying reasons. Kids can be excluded for up to 49 days in an academic year then cast by the wayside with councils etc doing nothing.
    With the increased access to social media youth issues are slowly going beyond social segregation and moving into more affluent areas. One solution I noted the police put forward was more new offences and sentencing for social media threats etc. An area that without doubt needs addressing but again is lock em up the only solution
    Granted my comments are disjointed and move from one area to the other but then so is the issues around the Youth of this country and Crime causation prevention reform and rehabilitation

  • John Ogrady says:

    So is it policy of the Howard League that you like to vet the speeches of your speakers in advance? Is that so you can no platform them if they do not follow the Leagues Liberal views?
    This is the Commissioner of the Met speaking not some student in a uni debate. I am disappointed that you brought race into it. This is not about race it is about serious criminality. I think you will find the vast majority of population would agree with the Commissioner. We are fed up with Liberal views on Law and Order and we want action not procrastination.
    Finally to refer to David Lammy as having done great work is beyond laughable, he is a typical sheep who is nothing but a waffle merchant.

    We have a big problem and it is time to ditch the Liberal niceties and get down to some tough action

  • Matthew White says:

    It is quite outrageous Cressida Dick expressed views which are contrary to those of the Howard League for Penal Reform and you are quite right to be upset.
    She clearly knows nothing about the issues or she would agree with your position.
    The crucial point is when someone expresses a view you disagree with is not to examine that view and consider whether is any validity in their stance
    but to immediately condemn them.
    By the way a masterstroke to suggest she is racist
    “She used the opportunity to call for more young children, in effect more black boys, to be sent to prison and for longer”

  • Mary Leedham-Green says:

    I think the answer comes in having highly supervised activities of all kinds, sport, music, drama, available in the problem areas. I think Reyjavik in Icelad has solved a drinking problem amongst the young by this means. Observe other countries and other local areas who have solved this

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