Dangerous Foreign Criminals?

As the British media frenzy continues about “dangerous foreign criminals” released from prison but not deported, I wonder what the furore says about us as a society. It seems to me to say something significant, because I haven’t heard a single news report about the “dangerous British criminals” who have also been released from prison after serving their time.

The headlines about British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “deportation pledge” are only the latest in a week or so of reports about the failure of the Home Office to consider hundreds or even thousands of “foreign criminals” for deportation. Every day, members of the British public have been bombarded with commentary about these dangerous foreign criminals walking our streets — including murderers, rapists, and others…

As with any other occasion where public opinion and/or the media onslaught seem to suggest a large chunk of opinion all moving uncritically in the same direction, this seems to me a worthwhile opportunity for reflection.

First, there is one thing I want to make clear and explicit: if the law says that these people (or any others) are supposed to have been considered for deportation, and they were not, then that is a serious matter. I will be the first to suggest that whatever management failures led to the law not being followed ought to be investigated.

However, as for the rest of the media frenzy and what it may say about us as a society…

In the UK, there are thousands of people who meet the following criteria:

  • they were convicted of crimes
  • they were sentenced to prison terms for their crimes
  • they served their prison terms
  • they were released from prison

There is one additional characteristic which further distinguishes between two sets of these people:

  • some are British
  • some are not British

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The law permits those in the second category above to be deported, while it does not permit those in the first category to be deported.

As far as I can tell, there is no other difference between the two groups, and as far as I am aware, no distinction is mandated between the two groups in terms of sentencing. In other words, the law has set out sentencing guidelines which (presumably!) have been democratically agreed to be appropriate for the specific crimes in question. Of course, mistakes do occur, and sometimes sentences are changed on appeal. However, the relevant point for now is simply that generally speaking, prison sentences assigned to those convicted of criminal offences reflect the democratic process.

So it isn’t too surprising that so far, no media furore has ensued about the “dangerous criminals walking our streets” after lawfully serving out prison terms assigned by British courts.

…Unless, that is, the people in question are non-British!

When it comes to non-British people who have lawfully served out prison terms after being convicted of criminal offences, the voices of the British media and opposition parties alike seem almost entirely united in dubbing them “dangerous foreign criminals walking our streets”. If the media uproar were focused entirely on bad management at the Home Office, this would be a different matter altogether — but it is not. As far as I can tell, a very large part of the media feeding frenzy focuses on the risks to the public of having these people “walking our streets”.

Where is the uproar about the dangerous British criminals walking our streets?

Do we just consider them safer because…why? Because they’re British? Or because sentences handed down by British courts are appropriate for British people but too lenient for non-British people? Or are non-British people just more fundamentally dangerous than British people, so that we should be more concerned about our safety when it comes to non-British people?

None of these alternatives seems to me to reflect very well on us as a society, or on our capacity for engaging as equals with those of other backgrounds.

Perhaps there is some other perfectly reasonable explanation for why the discussion of this matter extends so far beyond mismanagement at the Home Office, but I can’t think of one.

Can you?

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