Lavinia Woodward, Sentencing And The Case For The Met Police

What to make of the case of Lavinia Woodward? For those of you not in the know, Ms Woodward was spared jail after she flew into a drunken rage and attacked her then boyfriend who she met on Tinder. My first reaction when I heard the case was cynicism: this was another example of prejudice in the system. Here we had an intelligent young woman with a lot of problems who had made a mistake and the judge had showed compassion in recognising jail for a young person can have a “severe impact” on their future. My second reaction on reading my first reaction was: why aren’t there more judges that are doing this? Forget Lavinia Woodward – look at the facts of the case. A young woman with potential who made a mistake was not thrown into jail, but given a chance to rehabilitate herself and so fulfil that potential. The only part that was problematic was that her potential factored into the judge’s leniency. If leniency is a factor, why aren’t almost all young people spared jail?

And this is where my post goes off the rails. You see, I thought I was going to rail against the criminal justice system. I intended to, in my sardonic way, suggest that an outdated, classist and racist system meant that the system would only work for the Lavinia Woodwards:  the privileged and white. That article would have been amazing.

It also would not have been the entire truth.

Don’t get me wrong, the statistics that surround race and class when it comes to justice are ugly. It still continues to amaze me that I am significantly more likely to be stopped and searched than somebody else solely because I have more melanin than others. Just as amazing is the fact that people that look like me make up 3% of the population but 12% of the prison population. In the article that I imagined in my mind, I was going to suggest that something should be done to counter this injustice.

Something is being done. The Metropolitan police are to begin trialling deferred prosecutions in an attempt to curb minor crime and reduce racial bias. This is an objectively good thing. It is the same thing that I commended the judge in the Woodward case for doing. Criminalising young people has a detrimental effect on their future employment and second chances should be the rule, not the exception.

Commander Stokely, Scotland Yard’s head of countering gang and gun crime even told The Guardian that “the majority of young people who got involved in gun and knife crime could be saved by preventative measures”.

It is a well known maxim that politics makes for strange bedfellows. That said, an article that finds me completely on the side of the Metropolitan police is…well it feels odd. Is this to be an entirely positive post, devoid of wit?

Hold up. Lets put what Stokely said in block quotes:

…The majority of young people who got involved in gun and knife crime could be saved by preventative measures.

Lets do it again, but with some of the words in bold:

…The majority of young people who got involved in gun and knife crime could be saved by preventative measures.

Preventative measures…I’m guessing that would include things like community policing and projects and more officers on the street. The kind of thing that needs funding. And if there is one thing that has been true in the age of austerity, it is that funding for unnecessary things like the police, nurses and teachers have been hit hard.

Lavinia Woodward should be free to seek the help she needs to treat her addictions. And minor crimes should not lead to criminalisation. Prevention is better than cure. It’s just that if the government continue to make the swingeing cuts that they have, there will be little value in keeping the Woodwards of the world out of jail: what’s the point when all the services that could help her would have been cut anyway?

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