John Reid's efforts to turn around the embattled Home Office will be dealt a major blow this week by figures revealing a surge in muggings and other robberies over the last year, suggesting police forces are struggling to control street crime.
Violent crime has also risen significantly in many areas, according to an Observer survey of police forces across the country. Robberies are expected to have risen by almost 10 per cent according to official Home Office figures to be published this week.
The figures come just as the government attempts to take charge of the crime agenda, with Reid due to unveil long-awaited criminal justice reforms this week, making it harder for prisoners to get parole........
If I might be forgiven for raining on Mr Reid's parade, here's a few bullet points from a very junior player who has spent a couple of decades at the sharp end of the justice system:-
* Robberies range from a full-on armed raid to a fifteen year-old kid nicking a ten year-old's dinner money.
* In the age of the Ipod and the mobile millions of people regularly take to the streets carrying hundreds of pounds' worth of technology. Some of it gets stolen.
* One of the most common crimes of violence is domestic assault. For generations that was not seen as real crime - now, rightly, it is. Cases are vigorously prosecuted. This is one of the reasons why it is impossible to generalise about the amount of violent crime. I gave more examples here
* The figures quoted above are not 'significant' but are subject to statistical variations that make it impossible to draw any meaningful conclusion.
* Mr Reid is to announce 'long-awaited' reforms. Long awaited? Do me a favour: the PM ordered the Home Secretary to come up with something about three or four weeks ago. The Government was elected nine years ago. Wouldn't that have been a good time to 'take charge of the crime agenda'?
* Nobody will be surprised if it becomes harder for prisoners to get parole. The current system is full of anomalies. However that, coupled with the gross overloading in Probation services, means that new sentences such as Custody Plus are dead in the water, certainly now and possibly for ever.
* Part of the 2003 CJA doubles magistrates' sentencing powers with the aim of reducing Crown Court workloads at the lower end of the scale. If that doesn't happen the Crown Courts will start to creak.
I was recently at a training event and spent time chatting to judges and JPs. What we most want to see is a break from legislation to let us catch up and sort out the problems arising from the recent blizzard of new and sometimes ill-considered law.
There were no optimists present.