Boris Johnson has come under fire from a leading businessman over plans to humiliate offenders by making them work in “fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs”.
The prime minister unveiled plans to put more people doing community service into hi-viz jackets as they cleared rubbish and graffiti.
At the launch of his new crime crackdown plan, Johnson said that he wanted a more visible way of showing offenders working in the streets.
“If you are guilty of antisocial behaviour and you are sentenced to unpaid work, as many people are, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be out there in one of those fluorescent-jacketed chain gangs visibly paying your debt to society,” he said.
“So you are going to be seeing more of that.”
But James Timpson, who runs the Timpson’s shoe repair and key cutting chain that is one of the largest employers of ex-offenders in the country, hit out at the PM’s plan on Twitter.
“Instead of making offenders wear high viz jackets in chain gangs, how about helping them get a real job instead?” he wrote.
“In my shops we employ lots of ex offenders and they wear a shirt and tie. Same people, different approach, a much better outcome.”
Instead of making offenders wear high viz jackets in chain gangs, how about helping them get a real job instead? In my shops we employ lots of ex offenders and they wear a shirt and tie. Same people, different approach, a much better outcome.
— James Timpson (@JamesTCobbler) July 27, 2021
Timpson’s brother Edward is a Tory MP and the firm has frequently been cited by the government for its social enterprise work.
Campaigners and some Labour MPs also criticised the plan, which Johnson first floated when he ran for Mayor of London in 2008 but didn’t implement.
Civil rights group Liberty said the proposal would not make communities safer but was designed “to create more stigma and division” and was “a short-term stunt that will cause long-term generational harm”.
Talk of chain gangs shows this plan has nothing to do with making communities safer.
It’s designed to create more stigma and division.
A short-term stunt that will cause long-term generational harm. https://t.co/f9f7QYbUcI
— Liberty (@libertyhq) July 27, 2021
The Home Office itself had not used the phrase “chain gangs” in its announcement.
It preferred instead to say it would be “making unpaid work more visible by getting offenders to clean up streets, alleys, estates, and open spaces, and ensuring justice is seen to be done”
Johnson’s “Beating Crime” plan, which also included proposals to expand controversial Stop and Search powers, follows Labour’s own campaigns to highlight rising levels of anti-social behaviour across the UK.
During the launch, the PM appeared to admit that the problem was getting worse, but partly blamed Covid lockdowns.
Speaking at Surrey Police HQ, he said: “I do think that the lockdown has driven some anti-social behaviour and we need to deal with it. That’s why we are backing the police in the way that we are.”