FEATURE: Sidmouth’s master of criminology
- Credit: Archant
Should criminals go to prison as punishment, or should they be punished while they are there?
These are the sort of questions Sidmouth criminologist Paul Griew has sought to answer through his research.
Paul, 69, was born on Valentine’s Day two-and-a-half months early, weighing just 2lbs, and became interested in computers as a boy. He followed a career in the computer industry, eventually discovering an interest in the criminal justice system.
After completing his initial bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering as a young man, Paul had a number of jobs and gained master’s degrees in computer science, business administration and criminological research over the span of 40 years.
Paul, who has lived in Cliff Road, Sidmouth, for the past 20 years, discovered his passion for criminology after landing a job where he was tasked with helping different government departments, varying from Natural England to the National Criminal Intelligence Service, to decide how they could best use computers.
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Through his job Paul, who is a keen microlighter and glider pilot, became interested in the way the justice system worked and why it failed to achieve its aims.
During his work on his master’s degree, Paul focused his research on the difference between the 130 public prisons in England and Wales compared to the 14 private jails.
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He said prison had four main aims – to punish, to stop crimes being committed, as a deterrent and to rehabilitate. But research showed it did not work as a deterrent.
“I realised the system was trying to achieve a number of contradictory aims,” he added.
“Deterrence works for people who read the Daily Mail and don’t want to go to prison anyway, but for lads off the estate who expect to go to prison at some point in their life, it is a badge of honour.
“We need to rehabilitate offenders and to get them living useful lives, by educating them and giving them a sense of purpose and discipline.”
Paul’s research recommended that public prisons learn from private ones, which were of a better quality and lower cost.
He said there needed to be a decision about whether being sent to prison was the punishment or whether criminals should be punished while they are there.
“Prison is a place which can make bad people worse - the Home Office said that. Young kids get taught off the older ones.
“They then come out, commit more crimes and go back in again – it’s a revolving door. There must be a better way.
“If you have serial rapists and murderers, then send them to prison and throw away the key, but if they are young lads who have not known anything else, then they should be treated in a way that allows them to become useful members of society and live good, meaningful lives.
“Private prison companies employ young staff who are interested in prisoners’ welfare and use technology to reduce the amount of administration they have to do. For example, they let prisoners book their own meals and schedules, so prison officers have more time to relate to them.
“It creates an atmosphere in the prison. Prisoners are given structure in their life and a sense of family which they have not previously experienced.”
Paul said one of his favourite quotes came from a book called Prisongate. They are the words of a prisoner who was moved to a private prison after leading a riot in a public prison: “It was quite different. It was spotlessly clean. An officer sat me down in a chair, called me ‘Mister’ and asked if I would like a cup of tea. I thought I was being conned, but that went on the whole time, when I was taken to my cell and it’s gone on ever since. They all wear their names so you know who the staff are. It’s harder to hit someone when they treat you like that.”
When asked what research he would like to do next, Paul said he wanted to look at the use of DNA evidence.
He added that, under EU guidance, any DNA samples which had been collected from someone who was found not guilty should be destroyed after a year.
And, he wanted to look into how many innocent people were later convicted because of DNA that was kept on file.
Paul said: “I want to determine if the EU is right to do that and is correct that on grounds of privacy that DNA evidence should be destroyed.
“There is this tension as some people want to keep DNA taken from everyone in the country which I think would be a huge invasion of privacy.”
After publishing his research and showing it to a former chief inspector of prisons who he met at Cambridge University, Paul said a number of his recommendations seem to have been implemented.
While reflecting back on his life’s work, Paul said: “I never thought I would end up doing what I do now. I just love learning and become more interested in the subjects the more I study them.” n