|Human rights groups condemn plans for ‘supermarket jails’ and new powers to collect DNA|
|By Zephaniah Samuels 03/09/08
Plans for supermarket jails and the introduction of new police powers to collect DNA and fingerprints have been condemned as criminal by human rights and race quality organisations.
McNulty’s new plans
Police Minster Tony McNulty, also announced proposals increasing police powers to enter premises to arrest mental health patients, even when they pose no danger to others and are not suspected of committing a crime as part of a response to the review of police powers under PACE, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
Slammed as reprehensible, health experts say these plans appear to be more about criminalizing the innocent rather than protecting the public.
The new proposals would give the police or designated ‘Identification Officers’ the power to collect DNA and fingerprints in temporary holding facilities set up in shopping centers. Currently this would apply to anyone aged ten or above arrested for a recordable offence. Their computerised DNA profiles and biological samples would be kept until after their death even if they are not charged with any offence.
These unpopular plans have sent shockwaves through the black community who are outraged at McNulty’s plans to allow children to be questioned by the police, without the a parent or guardian present. With young black men currently six times more likely to be cautioned by the police than their white counterparts, despite having lower offending rates, community leaders say that the proposed changes would be a blow to community cohesion and the relationship with minority communities and the police.
Criminalising the UK
Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK said: “The Government has neatly side-stepped the problem of our over-crowded police cells by proposing to turn the whole country into one.”
Currently 57% of all innocent DNA taken in London alone comes from African Caribbean communities, and 77% of young black men have their DNA on the database, and race equality experts say these changes will hit black communities hardest.
‘We have seen a series of high profile data losses, from Government departments including the Ministry of Justice loss of a memory stick containing the details of all 84,000 prisoners the UK. The loss of two CDs containing the entire child benefit database – containing the details of 25 million families. Unencrypted laptop from a south London health trust have also not been recovered.
Given this track record, this is no time to be expanding a DNA database, to include children, who have not been convicted of any crime,’ Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said.
The changes have also been opposed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, who warned that the Government was in danger of criminalising ordinary citizens.
McNulty proposals are part of an extensive raft of changes put forward by the Home Office in response to the government review of the police and criminal evidence act 1984: or PACE .
Power to arrest innocent mental health patients
Health experts are concerned that the power to arrest mental health patients, when they do not pose a danger to themselves or others will exacerbate the myth that people who use mental health services are dangerous.
‘At a time when millions of tax payers money has been poured into anti stigma campaigns by the government the idea that the police can arrest anyone based on the fact that they have used mental health services will only reinforce the stereotype that service users are to be feared and will reinforce the stigma associated with mental illness. This act as an obstacle to recovering and reintegration back into society and is not welcome,’ BMH UK’s director, MacAttram, said.
Other new plans include powers that would allow entering people’s homes without a warrant, including when not in uniform and so would not be easily identifiable to occupants; seize “entire premises” such as caravans, tents, cars and all their contents. The police would also be able to search for missing persons who pose no danger to the public and are not suspected of committing any crime and most disturbingly of all they may be allowed to question children without the presence of a parents or guardian.
‘There is a deep mistrust of the police from many sections of the community, in light of extensive evidence to show that black people in particular find that they are often over policed. These new powers are not necessary to ensure a safer society, but rather will lead to more people having their details added to police records which could have very negative consequences for them now and in the future. These plans are a very bad idea and need to be ditched,’ Rev Desmond Hall, chair of Christians Together in Brent told Black Mental Health UK.
Collect DNA outside of police stations
In addition, the Government proposes allowing a court to draw adverse inferences from a person’s refusal to co-operate in an ID procedure, this has been slammed by human rights groups. Dr Helen Wallace, director of Gene Watch said: ‘the police need powers to do their job, which is catching criminals” said Dr Wallace, “The Government is wrong to try implement surveillance on law-abiding citizens.’
Viewed as a wholesale assault on British civil liberties, New proposals also include changes are surrounding extensions of detention in custody from 24 to 36 hours. The rules currently, require that extension of detentions have to be approved by an officer superintendent rank or above. Planned changes may mean that the signature of a mere police inspector would be sufficient and reviews could be carried out by telephone or video link.
Some of the plans put forward by the Police Minister last week have already been surreptitiously trailed, BMH UK has learnt that thecontentious “Supermarket jails” have been piloted in Oxford Street in London, with holding rooms at Selfridges store are being used to process shoplifters and other low level offenders.
There are major safety issues with collecting DNA outside of police stations. Police powers to use of ‘reasonable force’ to pull out someone’s hair should not be exercised outside a place of safety. Expanding numbers of non-police staff also increase the likelihood that criminals will infiltrate the system and obtain the DNA of vulnerable persons whose identity needs to be protected”. Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK
‘There is wholesale opposition to these plans as they will do nothing to make society a safer place. If anything the collection of this data, will put innocent citizens privacy rights in peril.’ Matilda MacAttram, director of Black Mental Health UK said.
Key proposals the Government also plans to increase police powers:
· Enter premises to arrest mental health patients, even when they pose no danger to others and are not suspected of committing a crime
· Enter people’s homes without a warrant, including when not in uniform and
· Seize “entire premises” such as caravans, tents, cars and all their contents
· Search for missing persons who pose no danger to the public and are not suspected of committing any crime
· Allow children to be questioned without the presence of their parents or guardians.
· Allow a court to draw adverse inferences from a person’s refusal to co-operate in an ID procedure.