Once again this week, we’ve had controversy over the upcoming Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Consistent with other cases, my local Labour candidate, Phil Dilks, was forced to step down after disclosing a minor offence from 44 years ago. Here, I examine if this should be the case, and the implications that rules like these have on offender desistance and public attitudes.
Phil Dilks is a local councillor from Lincolnshire. He’s served his country in the territorial army, and given back to his local community by taking a position on the council, and has been a member of the Lincolnshire Police Authority. But he, like many, was involved in what is being called a ‘minor misdemeanor’ . The alleged crime involves police finding a crash helmet, taken by a friend of Mr Dilks, in Mr Dilks’ garage. 44 years ago. He was charged with handling stolen goods – a crime that now carries a prison sentence and, despite only being given a £5 fine at the time, Mr Dilks now is ineligible to stand to be a commissioner.
This, surely, has to be wrong.
The Police and Crime Commissioner positions do not require candidates to have previous policing experience, and are tantamount to glorified Chief Executive positions. PCCs will be responsible for strategic planning, and control of budgets for their respective Force, and those in charge of the largest Forces will receive salaries of over £100,000 per year. What’s worse – PCC candidates are being elected by the general public, meaning that ideological orientation and political affiliations (the most public candidates are affiliated to one of the UK’s mainstream political parties).
But what about Mr Dilks’ situation?
It could be argued that it sticks of hypocrisy from the Government. Chris Grayling, now Justice Secretary, has previously supported a Christian couple’s bid to be allowed to turn away homosexual couples from their bed and breakfast accommodation. In a recent case in Derby, 3 Muslim men were sentenced to imprisonment for handing out leaflets condemning homosexuality. A case could be made that Grayling, too, is guilty of such discrimination, but he was not convicted – possibly due to his position in the Government.
Further than this, it could be argued that ex-offenders are better placed to look at the issue of crime in local communities. They have links and insights about the art of offending that could actually help to cut crime.
But perhaps the more worrying part of this case is that it presents the idea that ex-offenders are separate to the rest of society, and that they should not be considered for certain positions within society. Again, this could, in essence, be classed as discrimination (but it is important to note that a person’s offending history is not a “protected characteristic” under the Equality Act 2010).
It gives an outward impression to the public that ex-offenders should be, essentially, second-class citizens. If a £5 fine can exempt you from standing for election as a PCC, I fear for the integration opportunities of those with serious violent offences, who, despite their potential for rehabilitation, will undoubtedly struggle to rejoin society and be regarded as equal to the rest of society.
As criminologists, we should aid their re-integration. Click here for my “Call to Arms”.
As for Mr Dilks, he has my full support, and I’m sorry that he cannot stand for election. It’s time to right this wrong, and fight for long-term, desistance promoting criminal justice policy!
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