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‘Riot crimes’ fell after tough sentences, study finds

26th May 2014

Tough sentences given to those involved in the riots of 2011 seem to have acted as a deterrent, a new analysis finds.

But the data also show that, while ‘riot crimes’ like burglaries, criminal damage and violence dropped immediately after the sentences, there was a spike in other offences.

The findings will now be studied closely be politicians, sociologists and judges as they seek to learn the lessons from the riots of three summers ago, during which more than 5,000 crimes were committed.

In the 88 areas hit by rioting in London, crime rose by 57% during August, the month of the riots.  The analysis comes from Laura Jaitman and Stephen Machin at University College London and Brian Bell at the University of Oxford, and is published in this month’s Economic Journal.

A year after the riots, some 4,600 people had been arrested and 2,250 appeared in court.

The research shows that rioters who ended up in court were almost three times more likely to be placed in immediate custody than those who had committed the same type of offences the year before.

“For all crimes, the immediate custody rate tripled from 12% to 36% in magistrates’ courts and rose from 33% to 81% in crown courts,” the authors note.

Sentences were, on average, approximately two months longer than the 13 months received by similar offenders the previous year.

The harsher sentencing appears to have sent clear signals across the capital.  Afterwards there was a decline in ‘riot crimes’, even in London areas far from the riots.  The economists believe this was because prospective criminals feared the tougher sentencing regime had become a permanent fixture.

However, over the following six months there was a rise in other crimes such as drugs offences, fraud and forgery.

“This suggests a rational response from criminals who seem to have substituted away from the types of crimes that received tougher sentences to those that did not,” the economists conclude.