Government’s latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails

The coalition government’s considered approach to justice was welcomed by penal reformers, who considered it a once in a generation opportunity for change.

Jail

By Frances Crook, Director of The Howard League for Penal Reform

The coalition government’s considered approach to the challenges in the justice system was welcomed by penal reformers, who considered this a once in a generation opportunity to deliver real change.

Plans designed to reduce the prison population by 3,000 men, women and children and make better use of effective community sentences were a necessary change in direction. But unfortunately the government has gone into reverse, putting political goals ahead of effective jails.

The difference between cutting sentences by a third or a half for those who plead guilty early on is a technocratic issue that would have had little impact on prison numbers.

Rather than squabbling about a third or half of a sentence, we should admit that the real problem is in sending too many people  – and the wrong people – to prison in the first instance, and we should push for more courageous sentencing that would keep people out of jail altogether.

More than 60,000 people enter the prison system each year on a short term sentence (pdf). Sent to prison for not paying the council tax for example, or for flouting the smoking ban, people are given their release forms along with their induction papers.

Howard League research published yesterday (pdf) shows that people actually prefer a short spell in prison to a community sentence as lying idle in a cell is the real ‘soft option’.

Community sentences can take years to complete, and are managed by a probation service stretched to the seams by the weight of numbers – even more than our prisons are. It means that in too many cases people get little support and fail to turn up: breaches of their sentence that then lead to prison. Why not, many think, simply take the hit and go to prison straight away and get it over with?

Consequently, Britain’s prisons are overcrowded and dangerous places for both prisoners and for staff. Budget cuts without cuts in the number of prisoners will put everyone at greater risk.

Last year 252 people died in prison, and many staff suffered violence at the hands of bitter and mentally ill prisoners. Long hours locked in fetid cells, idle and angry, leads to prisoners committing more crime on release.

This is still a precious opportunity for change, and the government’s green paper has been the subject of extensive consultation and debate. The government must stick to its guns and reform the system.

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22 Responses to “Government’s latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails”

  1. Asad

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government's latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails http://t.co/iD4inYb

  2. Iain Carson

    Government's latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails: http://bit.ly/kD69pf writes @TheHowardLeague's Frances Crook

  3. Jonathan Taylor

    RT @leftfootfwd: Government's latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails: http://bit.ly/kD69pf <–I concur

  4. Guy

    Government’s latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails I Left Foot Forward – http://j.mp/kyshSb

  5. oldpolitics

    You can pick absurd (and frankly baseless) xamples like “sent to prison for flouting the smoking ban”, all you want, but for working class communities up and down the country, people who should be in prison not being in prison is a bigger problem than people who should not be in prison being in prison.

  6. The Howard League

    Government's latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails: http://bit.ly/kD69pf writes @TheHowardLeague's Frances Crook

  7. Russell D'Avilar

    Government's latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails: http://bit.ly/kD69pf writes @TheHowardLeague's Frances Crook

  8. Ed's Talking Balls

    Thank goodness the government saw sense on this issue.

    You can whine and moan about it all you want. You can even dismiss it as ‘technocratic’ and deride legitimate concerns as ‘squabbling’. In fact, please do because all it serves to do is harden public opinion against you and your ilk even further.

    Prison works. The government would be well served to do the opposite of what you recommend, both in terms of protecting the public and enhancing its own chances at the ballot box.

  9. Sophie

    So sending people to prison for petty non violent offences isn’t a big deal? So Oldpolitics you wouldn’t mind if it was your wife/ son/ father send to prison unnecessarily when a community penalty would have been more appropriate?
    Oh and not so baseless: a quick google search produced
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/money/tax/article570995.ece
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8540651.stm

  10. Ciaran Conaghan

    Government's latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails: http://bit.ly/kD69pf writes @TheHowardLeague's Frances Crook

  11. Anon E Mouse

    Finally this government has woken up to the wishes of the public. I’ve been with Labour all along on this thing.

    Prison works and this Howard League want to start employing people who come from sink estates and normal life instead of the university educated middle class backgrounds they all have.

    Try having your house robbed 4 times in one month and you’ll see things differently but the workers at this league would know nothing about the real world. If the burglar was in prison he couldn’t rob people’s houses.

    Simple as…

  12. scandalousbill

    Anon,

    You say:

    “Prison works and this Howard League want to start employing people who come from sink estates and normal life instead of the university educated middle class backgrounds they all have.

    Try having your house robbed 4 times in one month and you’ll see things differently but the workers at this league would know nothing about the real world. If the burglar was in prison he couldn’t rob people’s houses”

    You are confusing simplistic with “simple as”.

    First of all your example cited is totally preposterous. A home robbed 4 times in one month must have the most efficient and forgiving insurance coverage known to man, not to mention phenomenally quick replacement provision. Your example is also interesting given that you have accused, derided and chastised others in previous postings with regard to presenting fabrications. It seems you are not so different from those you have called liars.
    Secondly, the notion that if they are locked up you are safe pays no attention to the fact that unless you have blanket indeterminate sentencing, these people will get out eventually and there is much evidence to support the contention that they come out much more hardened in criminality than when they went in.

    Thirdly your bellicose musings ignore certain principles of justice, such as having the punishment fit the crime.

    It may also be useful for you,13 eastie and the other trolls to at least view the Howard League website before your ill considered bellyaching.

  13. Anon E Mouse

    scandalousbill – I have repeatedly asked this group to explain why my position is wrong with respect to the following statistic. Of the people let out early from jail under Labour…

    16,334 of these offenders were serving sentences for violence against the person.
    1,234 offenders were reported for alleged re-offending while on early release.
    1,624 alleged offences were committed by offenders on early release.
    125 offenders recalled for alleged re-offending or breaching the terms of their early release are still at large.

    That means 1634 crimes were committed (at least) that wouldn’t have been committed had those criminals still been in prison.

    Which just shows that I’m afraid to say you are wrong. I’m with Labour on this. Prison works.

    And by the way the Gurnos Estate is in Merthyr Tydfil – the woman had no insurance and applied for 4 crisis loans in one month. She had nothing worth stealing. The loan money went into her arm or was smoked as crack and her children were taken off her. That situation is not unique and this group need to get real because working class people don’t need to be patronised by these bleeding heart liberals…

    (And don’t call me a troll – I take it as a compliment on this site)

  14. oldpolitics

    “Oh and not so baseless: a quick google search produced”… someone who was sent to prison for owing the Government a 5-figure sum, imposed after they continually allowed the smoking ban to be regularly breached at premises under their control.

    A bit different from the implication that people were being thrown in prison for lighting up.

  15. Ed's Talking Balls

    scandalousbill,

    I don’t know what a ‘troll’ is supposed to mean in this context. If it is someone who has a different view to yours, then I, like Anon E Mouse, take it as a compliment.

    I rarely agree with Labour policies but thankfully am not so tribal as to fail to recognise sense when I see it. Therefore, I actually agree with Labour on law and order and strongly disagree with Ken Clarke, other woolly Tories, the Lib Dems and, of course, The Howard League.

    The fact that the author of this piece so blithely referred to ‘a technocratic issue’ and ‘squabbling’ backs up Anon E Mouse’s view that a liberal attitude to law and order is held by those less likely to be affected by crime. And certainly, I would never joke about the possibility of a house being burgled four times in a month. I never want to be that person who is so detached from such a serious issue.

  16. scandalousbill

    Anon,

    A troll is what a troll does. Conjuring up the notion of a robbery every week, 4 times a month…., to attack the OP certainly is not a balanced debate on the facts or between different political positions.

    The OP specifically points to the futility of short term incarceration; the numbers you cite pertain to recidivism rates, i.e. re-offences committed after prison release. Not the same thing at all. On this point, the OP can claim agreement from such bodies as the Prison Governors Association (PGA) and NAPO (the Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Staff). Now unless you can convincingly maintain that these professional groups “know nothing about the real world”, it would seem that this position has gained traction with those entrusted with the management and administration of the penal system.

    The problem of recidivism is indeed serious. However, the linkage you, Old Politics and Eds Talking Balls make between re-offending and early release is spurious. Within the context of short term sentences, i.e. those under one year, is it really salient that re-offences occur in December as opposed to July? Is not the key problem the fact that re-offences occur, and at an increasing rate, the main issue?
    In fact, the reoffending rates of 70% could well indicate, within the context of your loving parroting of Michael Howard’s infamous statement, that Prison does not work all that well.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/nov/04/jail-less-effective-community-service

    The solution proposed by Crispin Blunt in the article is ludicrous.

    “Reoffending rates among short-term prisoners remain unacceptably high. We will address this failure in the system by making prisons places of hard work which prepare offenders more effectively in the outside world.”

    I would argue a significant issue with recidivism is the reintegration of the released offender back into society. Incarcerating minor offenders, working them hard, and then placing back into the same situation from which they emerged, while satisfying a punitive desire to inflict punishment, and does nothing to correct the circumstances that lead to the original offence. You are equally likely to release a much more hardened and angry individual on the road to more serious offences. This is particularly true in the case of Youth Offenders, as even the Government has conceded in focusing upon aspects of social exclusion.

    http://enquire.hertscc.gov.uk/qol/2003/esocialexc03.pdf

    The fact that 71% of young offenders were not in work or education should focus our attention more on the need to address the more odious outcomes of social inequality, initiatives to prevent the creation of a lost generation, than “Prison Works” Chain gang-esque approach to inflict punishment which you seem to endorse.

  17. TIME Committee

    RT @leftfootfwd: UK Government's latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails http://t.co/mfi6RuR

  18. Anon E Mouse

    scandalousbill – No problem. Build more jails and bang them up for longer.

    I’m with Labour on this one – prison works and the government is wrong…

    (Having said that I wouldn’t put many groups in jail fraudsters for example pose no risk to the public so I’d hit them in the pocket and fine them so excessively they’d never do it again. Even the awful Geoffrey Archer should have lost his title and been financially squeezed until his pips squeeked…)

  19. scandalousbill

    Anon,

    You say:

    ” No problem. Build more jails and bang them up for longer.

    I’m with Labour on this one – prison works and the government is wrong…”

    But if “Prison works” as you say, why would you need to build more prisons? It seems to me that if that policy was successful you would need less and less prison space as the policy objectives are achieved and crime rates are reduced. Your words not only indicate that prisons are not working but a fundamental flaw and contradiction with your position.

  20. Leon Wolfson

    Prison works brilliantly.
    For generating crime.

    There are plenty of good studies showing that short prison sentences don’t work, but following science is /hard/ apparently. Especially at a time of low employment, all you’re doing is ensuring that people have no chance of getting work and that they’ll reoffend. Heck, even if they don’t get caught, they have new contacts within the criminal community…it’s really quite simple to trace, if you are not blinded by ideology.

    Also, “working prisoners hard”? For what? Breaking rocks? Providing profit to private companies and hence providing a perverse incentive to keep jails full?

  21. Community or Custody? How best do we deliver justice | Left Foot Forward

    […] Government’s latest u-turn puts political goals ahead of effective jails – Frances Crook, June 9th […]

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