The perils of off-the-peg American policy

Two interesting articles regarding the British government’s enthusiasm for adopting US policies into British criminal law:

First, from this week’s New Statesman: Martin Bright explains why our ministers seem always to look to the US and never anywhere else, like Europe: the Americans speak English, and most of our politicians don’t speak much else:

In America there are nearly 700 prisoners for every 100,000 of the population, compared to 140 here; the murder rate in Washington, DC is around 30 times that of London. Surely it would make more sense to look at what they are doing right in Brussels, where the murder rate is less than one per 100,000, or send a minister to Norway, where the rate of incarceration is half that of this country. So why does the government insist on imposing ideas on us from a country which provides a terrifying model of how not to run a criminal justice system? The answer, it seems, is simple: language.

“In America they speak and read English, it’s as crude as that,” says Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister, who has the distinction of speaking French, German and Spanish. He believes MPs should be offered language courses. “It’s reasonable to expect a working knowledge [of a European language]. But people just pick up what they want to hear.” He said it was common to see an American or British newspaper in the office of a European minister, but that he had never seen a British minister reading a European newspaper.

I tested MacShane’s theory by calling relevant departments to see which ministers possessed the necessary language skills to engage with European policy ideas. The replies were coy. A Home Office spokeswoman could not comment on the linguistic abilities of Reid or Sutcliffe: “We don’t have that information about individual ministers available,” she said. “And anyway, whether they speak a language is not relevant.” Home Office ministers were looking at other examples of good practice on paedophiles from Europe and elsewhere, but she couldn’t tell me exactly where, or when Sutcliffe would be paying them a visit.

Also, Johann Hari (in the Independent, but it’s on his website for free) on why Megan’s Law, the law which the tabloids are demanding be implemented, is actually not a good law at all:

Megan’s Law guarantees that a released paedophile will be put in this position. Instead of being able to find a job, build normal adult relationships and being given help to resist their darkest urges, they are plunged into a scalding bath of hatred. One newspaper, the Times Herald-Record, documented the effect of Megan’s Law in Newburgh, a small town in up-state New York. When a sex offender named John Duck Jr. was released on parole to live with his elderly parents, their neighbours were told about his crimes by hundreds of police knocking door-to-door with leaflets. All three family members received a cascade of death threats. A howling picket was established outside their house for weeks, demanding Duck “get out now!!” – presumably to a mythical place with no children. (He couldn’t anyway – it was a condition of his parole to remain at that address). He was shunned everywhere he went, unemployable and friendless. The few neighbours who did speak to him received threats of their own.

… Across the US since it was introduced, there has been a Columbine-sized massacre of paedophiles, their relatives and anybody who got in the way. It started in Nova Scotia when a vigilante found the names and addresses of two sex offenders from the register, hunted them down and killed them. Almost exactly the same thing happened a few months later in Maine – and one of victims was listed on the register because as a 19 year old, he had consensual sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. In New Jersey, a man was beaten nearly to death with a baseball bat after he was mistaken for his sex offender brother. This list could go on and on.

I’m not sure what relevance Nova Scotia has since it’s in Canada, unless they have a similar law there. But the danger is obvious as we saw when riots took place as a result of the News of the World’s name-and-shame campaign. These money-grubbers are the last people politicians should be listening to when framing policy on anything, least of all something that matters, like protecting children.

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