Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Prisons Policy: It's about what you can prove

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?

1 comment:

comrade said...

I have worked with offenders in prisons and the community for 13 years....

One comparison that can easily be done is between re-offending rates for short custodial sentences and community penalties. In this one the latter usually provides better results.

Ken Clarke in on the right lines but misses an important point. By perverse logic every time comunity sentences are "toughened up" it leads to an increase in the prison population. This was a principle failure of the 2003 Act. A prime example is the Suspended Sentence Order - designed as a direct alternative to custody it is instead used in 80% of times as an alternative to a Community Order or fine. Sentencers pass the same number of short custodials as ever before but less serious offenders get their punishment up tariffed. For example the average length of a Community Payback/Unpaid Work/Community Punishment/Community Service Order (these are all rebrands since 2001) has increased from 80 hours to about 130 yet the seriousness of the crimes for which the Orders are passed has actually dropped.

The prison populations exploded for a number of reasons e.g
a) The explosion of public protection sentences wth no machinery in place in the prison system to manage these people to release.
b) Increasingly onerous and complex community sentences that often set people up to fail.
c) Increasingly complex release conditions often leading to technical breach and a return to custody
d) Suspended Sentence Orders
e) Channelling Probation resources into delivery of set programmes to the detriment of individual supervision/intervention by Probation Officers.
f) A chaotic and disorganisd release and recall system for breaches post release.
g) Non availability of some offending behaviour programmes in prisons - e.g one domestic violence programme has a 3 year waiting list.

These are all policy mistakes that have nothing to do with the level of crime in society.

New Labour was an absolute disastor for criminal justice - as the man says cheque book in one hand , the daily mail in the other.