The debate over the future of our prisons policy, kicked off today by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, has certainly got a lot of political feathers ruffled.
The one thing which interests me is this; the arguement against using prison is the large number of people who (often quickly) re-offend. The arguement for using prisons is that it acts as a deterent to people.
Only one of those you can prove.
To calculate the re-offending rate is very easy indeed.
But to calculate the number of people put off committing crime because of the fear of prison is almost beyond calculation (because you can, by virtue of the crime not happening, ever know this.)
So the pro-rehabilitation lobby have stolen a march on the pro-prison lobby by having a definitive arguement and an easy statistic to throw around.
To my knowledge, as of yet, nobody has suggested a public debate over which kinds of crime, done by which sorts of people, done how many times should lead to certain punishments or prison sentences. Why not?