Few things sum up the division of the UK around the riots like the sentencing of those involved. Some think courts are too lenient, while others gape at six month sentences for people who stole a bottle of water.
These judgments are often made on the basis of a single case, rather than any overall view. And you might think, in such a situation, that a journalist’s role would be to find out just how harsh or lenient sentencing has been – not just across the 1,600 or more people who have been arrested during the riots, but also in comparison to previous civil disturbances – or indeed, to similar crimes outside of a riot situation.
As Martin Belam argues:
“Really good data journalism will help us untangle the truth from those prejudiced assumptions. But this is data journalism that needs to stay the course, and seems like an ideal opportunity to do “long-form data journalism”. How long will these looters serve? What is the ethnic make-up and age range of those convicted? How many other criminals will get an early release because our jails are newly full of looters? How many people convicted this week will go on to re-offend?”
And yet, amazingly, we cannot reliably answer these questions – because it is still not possible to get raw data on sentencing in UK courts, not even through FOI. Continue reading