PRISON REFORM

I was pleased to see Iain Duncan Smith is considering prison reform.

Attention has concentrated understandably on the need to lock up for long periods those who represent a real threat to our future security, becuase they are likely to perpetrate violent crimes against us. To do this we need to have enough prison places to protect the public. These prisons need to be properly staffed and secure, to avoid the scenes of prison riots and break outs we have seen reported in recent years.

Attention should also focus on why so many people in prison are on drugs, unable to read and write to a good standard or otherwise ill equipped to lead a life based around gainful employment.

I hope the Review will ask these two important questions:

1. What more can be done where criminals have turned to crime owing to their inadequacies, to ensure when they do eventually leave prison they are better equipped to earn a living from a legal job rather than from shop lifting or drug dealing or the like? Can more be done to encourage them to learn employable skills, by only allowing reductions in time served if they meet suitable standards and are seriously preparing themselves for a life without crime when they leave. Is their progress monitored properly and sufficiently when they leave prison to try to avoid re-offending? A prison will work better if it is a school for going straight rather than an academy of crime.

2. Are we locking up too many people who do not represent a threat to society in the future and who do not need special programmes to get them off drugs or to equip them for a proper job? The Review should look at whether some who have committed a non violent crime should be expected to remain earning their own living, and be required to compensate society or their victim generously out of their income and maybe expected to give up some of their non working time to make a further contribution to society.

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8 Comments

  1. Letters From A Tory
    Posted November 12, 2007 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Crime is a multi-faceted problem (family, education, society, the law etc) but I doubt that this report will cover every element of our broken society. However, it needs to be bold enough to convince voters that the Conservatives have enough solutions to these entrenched problems.

    http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

  2. Michael Taylor
    Posted November 12, 2007 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Why not consider outsourcing "prison services", repackaged perhaps as part of our international development budget? There must be (some overseas countries-ed) which would appreciate being paid to incarcerate our villains for the duration. Outsourcing would solve the perennial "overcrowded prisons" problem and allow sentencing policies no longer to be dictated by inadequate prison provision. Yes, the regime may be a little tougher than onshore prisons, but i) why on earth should criminals occupy real estate in pricey central london and ii) you could have a three strikes and you're out (of the country) rule or something.

    As for humane prison reform for those thought possible to rehabilitate, maybe some of the money saved on outsourcing the (toughest cases amongst prisoners -ed) could be spent genuinely helping those who can be saved. Carrot and stick.

    Reply: I am all in favour of seeking best value solutions for prisons. Whether any overseas country would want to take our prisoners is another matter. There would also be issues about responsbility for the prisoners and for the regime under which they were held. Ultimately they would return to the UK on release, so we do have an interest in their state of mind. I do favour better border controls to prevent known criminals settling in the UK in the first place, and to deport people who have abused our hospitality by committing serious crimes when here.

  3. Tony Makara
    Posted November 12, 2007 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    There are clearly many different types of prisoner. Every first offender, provided he/she is not a threat to the public, ought to be given every opportunity to reform. However hardened recidivists ought to face a more severe prison regime.

    There are certainly people in prison today who shouldn't be there, and we have to question the judgment of a Labour government that sends a parent to jail because their child plays truant and contrast that with Labour's policy of giving house burglars a caution for the first offence. House breaking first offence should carry a prison term and the process of rehabilitation should come during the sentence. Punishment followed by positive rehabilitation.

    I make no claim to be an expert on jurisprudence and I struggle to understand how sentencing works. How can murderers be given five years, seven years etc. How cheap has life become?

  4. Michael Taylor
    Posted November 12, 2007 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Sorry still to be "awaiting moderation" – perhaps in this case, a little too accurate a description of the difficulty my email raises.

    Yes, I know "outsourcing prison services" sounds ridiculous, but why on earth shouldn't it be done?

    After all, it there's an increasing international trade in outsourced health services, education services, etc why shouldn't there be a similar trade in "criminal containment services"? Particularly when the source of supply in this country is so constrained by lack of public sector investment that it seems sentences even for murder have to be cut to fit the cloth available.

  5. Bazman
    Posted November 12, 2007 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Most crime today revolves around drugs, at the root heroin and cocaine. Truely a massive and complicated problem. The prohibitionists have absolutely failed, but legalisation of these drugs by Tesco would see mass addiction. Any moves towards legalisation would in theory, see sanctions against Britain due to international agreements. Doing nothing is doing something.

  6. Steven_L
    Posted November 13, 2007 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    I watched a whole afternoon watching the magistrates courts once as a student.

    I’d been there myself a couple of times in the dock as a teenager and twenty year old. Once for failing to produce insurance because my insurance company did not send me a certificate and the police would not accept a cover not. Also once I did not produce my licence etc within the required 7 days (out of sheer laziness) and got nicked for my minor speeding offence as a consequence.

    Both times I was summoned I made sure I was there early and was dressed in suit, white shirt and tie. Not everyone who goes to the magistrates court bothers with such common sense, most defendants seem to have no respect for the system whatsoever.

    During the afternoon I spent watching we were about five or six cases into the afternoon when a defendant actually bothered to show up. He had made no effort to look smart, and was being prosecuted for driving whilst banned. He had a story about how he had needed to collect his son in mitigation, but when it transpired he had a string of motoring convictions and over four grands worth of unpaid fines they sent him down for two months. Oh, and they quoshed the fines.

    Considering he would have probably been out in one month, four grand is not bad. Discounting the crimnal record, I imagine that a lot of law abiding poor folk (students spring immediately to mind) would do a month of porridge for a tax-free lump sum of four grand. A few students I knew had drugs tested on them for less than a quarter of that in order to clear their credit card bills.

    I found myself sympathetic to the idea of not placing a huge financial burden on a man of limited means and letting him wipe the slate clean to as to speak, after all unlike everyone else that afternoon he had bothered to turn up. Perhaps this is how magistrates and judges think?

  7. Cliff
    Posted November 13, 2007 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    We already have "private" prisons, HMP Doncaster comes to mind. I remember the fiasco with the private prisons ran by Group 4. Prisoners are transported to and from prison by a private operator and the same operators provide gaolers and dock officers in the courts, so there is much private sector involvement already.
    I believe that we need to come down harder earlier in the criminals' career. I know of young offenders that have tens of previous convictions for many fairly serious offences that have never seen the inside of a prison. A short sharp shock on the first or second offence is needed in my view, not a hug. The trouble is that many youngsters and not so young people no longer respect authority are fear the consequences of their misdeeds. It starts in the schools and homes, no deterrent to prevent misbehaviour. It then follows them throughout their lives, the you can't touch me

  8. Bazman
    Posted November 14, 2007 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    You're right Cliff. How can you be up for something like car theft or burglary seventy times!
    It's like a dog chewing furniture, and I hate these theories!
    At some point that dog cannot be allowed in the room whether it is stopped by reward or punishment. Where is the limit? Go on touch me!

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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