than the experience of custody therefore seems a stronger deterrent—assuming that those who reach custody do not differ markedly from [hose who give up before reaching that stage.
When those who thought about it were asked whether the expected punishment put them off taking cars, 21 per cent said yes and 73 per cent no. The reported deterrent effect varied with the type of punishment expected. None of those who expected to receive a caution, conditional discharge, probation or com- munity service order reported being put off taking cars. One young man described probation as:
Easy i'n' it? It's nothing, just go down Ihe office once every (wo weeks, something like that. It doesn't help.
There was evidence from a few that cautions were seen as a let off:
I had four cautions and an informal caution. I thought well I'm riding them at the moment, do you know what I mean? I'm above them because they keep giving me cautions.
The first time's a caution . . . you just laugh at them really.
But for this offender nothing short of long custodial sentences seemed to be significant:
I don't mind a couple of months but not 12 months, couple of years.
Of those who expected a fine coupled with a driving ban, 25 per cent reported being put off, for those expecting custody this rose to 50 per cent:
I stopped because I got caught once and I knew for a fact I'd get sent down the next time.
The expectation of custody1 was said by 15 of the sample to have been enough to deter them, although of the 14 offenders who had actually served one or more custodial sentences only one considered that it had stopped him offending:
It wasn't very nice, it's a dirty place, you had to get down on your hands and knees and scrub the floors—you get about £2 a week and you can only buy half an ounce of tobacco to last you a week.
For others any deterrent effect seemed to be transient:
I know it sounds mad but the last sentence that I got was 18 months, I done 12 months. When I came out it felt that I hadn't even been away. When I was doing the 12 months it was doing me head in I was thinking 'I'm not doing that again'. But as soon as I was on the streets again it was like I
1 Detention in a Young Offender Institution for those aged 15-20 years and prison for 21 years and over.
hadn't been away, nothing had changed. . .The sentence didn't bother me after I got out.
Yet Ihe futility of such a lifestyle was nol lost on this particular young man (who was no longer taking cars):
But now I think back and I think like I've lost years in gaol, doing three years, 18 months, I've lost years of me life.
Some considered that custody had no effect on their offending:
I've been inside three times. You go in there the first time and there's lots of people like you in there, you gel on wiih ihem, you can relate with them. You conic oul. OK so fair enough you're out, no big deal. You go in a second lime, you come out. It's no penalty.
I knew I'd be sent down. 1 got community service at one point, I breached it—I couldn't be bothered to go again. I went back to stealing cars and that and then I got six months. I came back out and did it again.
I don't know what it was, but something said to me 'oh you've been put inside once like you've done the worst'.
It was a joke last time, six months—it was a holiday for three months—lie back and put your feet up.
Several mentioned the notion that custodial institutions act as 'universities of crime':
If you go in for one offence you learn four others and the trouble is you see the temptation to actually do it—'oh that lad told me you could do it this way. I wonder if I can?' And you'd be tempted to try it.
When you are in prison like you find out a lot more things that you never knew. I went in there with my knowledge and I came out knowing three times as much.
Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Act 1992
The Aggravated Vehicle-Taking Bill was introduced amid wide publicity in late 1991 and came into force in April 1992, while the fieldwork for this study was in progress. Awareness of the new law was claimed by 69 per cent of the sample, while 70 per cent said that they were aware that penalties had been increased. Some misunderstood the new provisions, confusing them with aggravated burglary:
I've heard of it but I can't understand how it can be done unless the owner of the car is sitting in the car with you; or pulling someone up, getting them to stop forcefully and pulling them out of the car.
If you hit someone it would be aggravated something or other.