Damocles Sentencing
Eradicating Repeat Offending

The vast proportion of crime committed in Western Europe, in urban and suburban areas, is committed by a very small proportion of younger people, children, teenagers, and people in their 20s. Much of it is repeat offending of crimes with a minor judicial classification, but which have a considerable effect on both the direct victims and society at large. The crimes often involve vandalism, intimidation, minor violence, and petty theft. Much of it is induced by boredom, drunkenness, and group-culture (showing-off to friends in a small gang). The effects far outweigh the recognition the judicial system gives to these offences. People feel uncomfortable in their own streets, especially after dark. Petty vandalism and littering lead to neglect and 'dump-mentality' (ie. this place is a dump, why bother to keep it neat, report crime etc). An area can spiral downhill very quickly. Once an area gains a reputation, it is hard to shake, and both local residents' quality of life and commercial activity is hit heavily.

The problem is severely compunded by the failure of the judiciary to take the issues seriously, and the failure of the police to act in response to offences seen to be 'minor'. These two problems are related: the fines for serial minor offending are so low, the sanctions so few, and the paperwork so extensive, that neither the judiciary nor the police can be bothered to act. Why spend 4,000 of tax-payers' money to arrest, charge, and prosecute someone for a minor crime which has a 20 fine attached to it? It makes no economic sense.

Damocles is a suggested response. Damocles sentencing is not 'Zero-Tolerance' policing. It is not about crucifying people for minor offences. People make mistakes, they take a wrong path, and they should be given a second chance to get back on the straight and narrow. Damocles is aimed instead at stopping the repeat offending of 'minor' criminal acts, to prevent a local area from 'going to pot'.

Under Damocles, the police would be charged with 'processing' as many minor offenders as is feasible in the shortest possible time. Typically, if there was a street fight involving 7 drunken youths, with one stabbed, the police would concentrate upon finding out who stabbed the injured party, and not bother with the other offenders, even if the victim refused to co-operate. Under Damocles nobody would be pursued for the stabbing if the victim was actually engaged in the fight and unwilling to assist. Rather, all 7 offenders would be arrested and charged for a minor offence that they could not dispute: drunk and disorderly, or affray. It is vital that as many regular offenders are swept up in the shortest possible time. The emphasis is heavily upon preventing re-offending even at a minor level.

Next, all 7 would be served with court orders, 'good behaviour bonds'. Under these (which would be handed out like confetti), all 7 would be ordered to be 'of good conduct' for 1 year. Any offence, of any kind, no matter how minor, would see them prosecuted not for the offence (which may carry a 20 fine) but for breaking their court order, their 'good behaviour bond'. This would lead, excepting in cases of extreme extenuating circumstance (ie. mental illness), to an immediate custodial sentence of at least 1 month, after which their good behaviour bond would begin again. A second breach would lead to 2 months custodial, a third 4 months, a fourth 8 months, and so on, in each case rising exponentially.

Initially, under Damocles, a much higher number of people get custodial sentences, but this number falls and falls rapidly. Very quickly repeat offending levels drop.

Many offenders are too young to serve custodial sentences in this manner. A lot of children knowingly repeat offend. This is often not 'mischievousness' but intended criminality or even a sign of mental illness. In these cases, rapid and effective intervention is extremely important for the child's own future. In such cases it is vital that pro-active intervention by police and social services kicks in rapidly and (if necessary) with the backing of the courts. Parents have a responsibility for their child's behaviour and the consequences of their child's behaviour whether they like it or not. Financial amends where necessary (ie. for vandalism perpetrated by the child) would be extracted by the courts immediately through the enforced sale of the parent's assets, or directly from the parent's bank account. All necessary support would be implemented for parenting classes, which the parents would be required to attend under court order. Parents who abdicate their responsibility to bring up their children would be forced to for the sake of their children and of their children's victims, both current and future.

The most difficult part of implementing Damocles is persuading the police and courts to take minor repeat offending seriously. They tend to react to crime according to its position on a judicial scale of seriousness, rather than the cumulative effect of numerous minor offences on society as a whole in any area. The police also need to alter procedures. Currently most police responses are designed to limit problems, and to seek resolution without recourse to arrest (ie. paperwork). Damocles is about permanently resolving problems. Typically the police may devote the attentions of a number of officers and maybe 30 minutes to calming a situation down without making an arrest. Under Damocles, all minor offenders would be 'processed' in the shortest possible time in a van-based 'swoop'. Under Damocles you arrest as many people as you can, as quickly as you can, for minor indisputable offences, to get them into the Damocles sentencing programme. An instance of minor offending is an opportunity to get a potential serial offender into Damocles that should not be passed up.

Damocles is about ending minor criminality in areas plagued by it. Low level repeat criminality is not a given. It is not something that will always exist and should be tolerated. It can be entirely extinguished from any area using Damocles.

Back to the front page.