Prison doesn’t always work

Let me say something you would expect a Conservative to say. If some one is guilty of a crime of violence they should be put in prison. Prison is there to protect the public from future violence, to act as a deterrent to others and to punish the criminal.

Let me now say two things you might not expect a Conservative to say. Prison does not work very well. We send too many people to prison.

I was pleased this week to read the Conservative document looking at how the rate of re-offending might be brought down, and how a future government would want to reduce the rate of increase in the number of prisoners. The government is now suggesting there could be a further growth of a quarter in the prison population by 2020, taking it to 100,000. The Conservatives would like to get it below that for the best of reasons – by reducing the amount of serious crime.

The truth is that half of all crime is committed by previous offenders. All too many people in prison are sad or mad – the simply bad are often in the minority. There is a high prevalence of people who cannot read and write to an employable standard, people who are on drugs or heavy drink, people who have disturbed personalities and find adjustment to civil society difficult or impossible. Conservatives propose much more emphasis on rehabilitation, working to get people off drugs in prison rather than allowing prisons to be places where more pick up the habit; working to teach the prisoners skills they need to hold down a job and run a more normal life out of prison. The prison and Rehabilitation Trusts would get more funding if they succeeded in returning prisoners to civilian life without re-offending.

It is worrying that all too many prisoners leave prison with no home to go to, and with no great help to find a place to live or a job to pay the rent. To some prison is the least bad option, providing heating and meals each day. Others leave still with a drug or drink habit, making it impossible for them to hold a job and with an expensive habit they have to feed. They are bound to offend again and likely to be caught again.

I am all for trying new ways of rehabilitation. I also like the idea of a minimum sentence and a maximum sentence for each prisoner, laid down by the court, where the prisoner has to earn the shorter sentence by demonstrating that he will be able to fend for himself legally when he leaves as well as showing good behaviour inside.

I also think we should look at other ways of reducing the prison population. More than 10,000 out of the 80,000 in our prisons at any given time are foreigners. We should have a policy of returning many more offenders to their home country when they have been found guilty. Both parties are now looking at this for the minority that come from non EU countries. Surely we should do the same for the majority who come from EU nations? I was never happy about the loss of partial control of our borders that this government signed up to. Isn’t it time to renegotiate this item , or to put in place arrangements which allow us to cut this unwelcome pressure on our prisons?

Maybe we should also look at the question of financial crimes that do not involve violence or the threat of violence against people. I have no wish to create a class divide: violent rich people should have to suffer prison like violent poor people, but maybe both poor and rich thieves, whether thieving by stealing a car or getting up to something illegal in accounts should on a first offence have financial penalties. Why not make them pay financial compensation to their victims, strip them of the profits of crime, and make them pay the police and court costs? As someone who was burgled years ago before I put in proper security I would have liked the criminal to have been found and to have bought me new replacements of what I had lost. I did not feel it essential to send him to prison. In practise, I was not told he was ever found so probably nothing happened. Thieves are clearly motivated by the wish to have more money or better things, so a financial punishment would suit the crime. Putting a petty car or TV thief in prison may turn him to a life of crime, as it will prevent or break his links with the world of work and family that provide some stability to most people’s lives.

I would be interested in your thoughts about prison. No-one looking at the big increase in numbers, and the poor record on re-offending can be happy with the current position. It is time for some new thinking.

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24 Comments

  1. duncan robertson
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    best thing for being sad, is to learn something

  2. Richard Fletcher
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Incarceration serves many purposes. Rehabilitation, punishment and public protection are just some of these. It is also supposed to act as a deterrent. The fear of going to prison has to be real in order to deter people from committing crime.

    I agree that something has to be done about the problem of overcrowded prisons, and that the answer shouldn't be to just 'build more prisons'. But, I think that having a system in place which ensures that those found guilty of financial crimes avoid prison would only serve to increase crimes of that nature. If the worst that can happen to the criminal is that they're left back where they started (financially) before the crime was committed, then what's stopping them from taking a chance on not getting caught?

    I suppose it comes down to getting the balance right between the threat of prison acting as an effective deterrent, and keeping prisoner numbers manageable. At the moment, I think you are right to suggest that this balance has not yet been reached.

    reply; I AM NOT SUGGESTING LEAVING THEM NO WORSE OFF. I AM SUGGESTING MAKING THEM PAY ON TOP OF LOSING THE PROCEEDS OF CRIME.

  3. Mark
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    John,
    We spoke briefly at Eton the other day. I would draw your attention to the work done by Alpha for Prisons (http://alpha.org/prisons). You are probably aware of the Alpha Course (a non-denominational introduction to Christianity run in every major denomination in every country in the world – but based at Holy Trinity Brompton in the UK). The prison version was begun in 1995 and now runs in 80% of UK prisons and in 74 other countries. They don't make a big noise about it but the re-offending rate of prisoners that have completed the course is incredibly low. I think this is for two reasons.
    i) because prisoners often make a heart commitment to change
    ii) because churches try to meet each prisoner leaving jail and to allocate a team of 4 people to each prisoner – one to be a friend, one to help with practical things, job, housing, another has a pastoral responsibility and so on

    Works like this can always use more money but they can't use government money if it comes with lots of strings or is paid by results. It only works because the prisoners know that there is no ulterior motive – if they become "targets" it won't work. The help that government can give is to help objectively measure and rate different approaches and to clear obstacles from the path and to encourage prisons and local authorities to work with successful schemes.

  4. Letters From A Tory
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Re-offending is a serious issue, which ultimately comes all the way back to childhood and the family. IDS has done some fantastic work in this area, but the Conservatives will have to show some 'tough love' when they come into power because rebuilding and strengthening families should be the first wave of attack on re-offending and it simply cannot fail.
    http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

  5. Martin
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the repatriation of foreign prisoners:
    As negotiations with the various countries are likely to result in reciprocal arrangements, surely we are likely to see Britons who have commited crimes abroad returned here to serve their sentences?

    Are there any numbers to show how much of a nett reduction in the prison population we'd end up with?

  6. Nick
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I think you could afford to put away a lot more dangerous and repeat offenders who pose a genuine threat to the public if the criminal law were reformed so that it was no longer simultaneously attempting a mass social engineering project (US example but applicable in principle here): http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2008/02/29/one-in-

    In general, I believe that once an offender has been established as violent and likely to repeat, it might make sense to put them away until they are old enough that re-offending is less likely (basically within the 18-35 demographic). Progressive justice is all well and good, ONCE the public have been protected and you can only do that by putting violent criminals behind bars.

    reply: I DID SAY VIOLENT CRIMINAL SHOULD BE LOCKED UP

  7. Bazman
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    No expense should be spared to keep the likes of Ian Huntley, Levi Bellfield and the no mark scum who kill the average Joe in the street, alive in prison. In I would like make a small personal financial donation to help ensure they do not escape like Harold Shipman or Fred West did. Let them smoke their cigars.
    Anyone with a job should not really go to prison for non violent offences. Fines as a percentage of income are the answer.
    Buying your way out of prison would be a radical experiment.
    For the rest, reform of the drug laws would reduce numbers massively as most of the prison population are in some way involved in drugs. Users are also dealers. They can't help themselves without help. The addiction is immediate in the sense that unlike a cigarette, if you put a gun to their heads thy would still take the drugs, and the only way to obtain the drugs is on the black market at prices that can only be affordable by crime. Stabilised addicts with access to clean supplies are probably of no more danger than smokers.
    Another major problem is lack of education at the most basic level. Not being able to read or write is a ticket to prison.
    The ones who do not want to be helped or find that they like this way of life, should face increasing sentences.
    Seventy previous offences is not right on society. If a dog keeps chewing the furniture, then it has to be stopped by reward or punishment. If neither works then It cannot be allowed in the house.

  8. Rose
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    The worst thing about our CJS is that it is so cumbersome and expensive, and therefore inefficient and ineffective – and ruthlessly manipulated by the defence teams who have a financial interest in so doing. No-one benefits but the lawyers, and any victim who has had to endure the pursuit of “justice” in the courts will tell you the cure is as bad as the disease, and the furious feeling of injustice endures for years to come.

    Sending someone to prison is like putting people in the luny bin – it is the last thing they need, but no-one can think of what else to do with them, and so we compound our terrible social ills. Prison is the university of crime, as well as drug addiction.

    I am very interested in real restorative justice, and therefore attracted by the Sharia way of doing things. But how on earth do we undo centuries of sacred principles of English justice – innocent until proved guilty, trial by one’s peers, proper legal representation, etc., without risking tyranny, either from the state or the mob?
    At the root of all our problems are the insupportable numbers of disunited people in our tiny country. Japan shows how a very crowded country can be civilized and tranquil, but they are homogeneous, and all brought up with the same manners and morals.

    I sense however, that we are on the verge of a moral revolution of some kind, similar to that which took place at the end of the 18th century when we were last in a decadent state of coarse and criminal cynicism. Then the Clapham Sect led the way. Perhaps this time it will be our Moslems – or maybe our Sikhs.

  9. Lee Moore
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    It's all a bit depressing when some who is (a) famous for being right-wing and (b) famous for being clever can't seem to dig himself out of the progressive dogma that we have been suffering from since the war (with a brief interlude, a mere flicker of common sense, from Michael Howard.)

    1. Prison is very very very cheap, compared with all the other nonsense that the government wastes money on. Scotland could have added more than 50% to its prison capacity for the cost of its absurd parliament building. It would cost no more than three years worth of carousel fraud to double the prison capacity in England.

    2. There is no one on the planet who wouldn't like to see successful efforts at rehabilitating prisoners. When you found one that actually works, and isn't just spin and froth from the Howard league and suchlike, great, let's do some. But , with one single exception, so far nobody has found anything non custodial that rehabilitates offenders. Claims we have aplenty – statistically convincing proof – nada.

    3. The single exception is advancing years. Criminals do less crime the older they get. All of which argues for reacquainting them with the public later in their lives.

    4. The answer therefore is more prisons and longer sentences, unless and until you find something else that actually works. When you do, we'll all cheer. In the meantime, you lot have a duty to protect us from criminals. And criminologists peddling fantasies.

    5. You people are supposed to be the reality-based party. Stop dreaming, wake up and do your job.

  10. Nick
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    "reply: I DID SAY VIOLENT CRIMINAL SHOULD BE LOCKED UP"

    Yes, and I think we are very much in agreement on this point and the point that non-violent offenders could face suitably harsh demands for compensation for crimes against property instead of prison sentences in many cases. I only emphasise the need to lock up violent offenders because it is something that, though talked about a lot, is still something the criminal justice system is struggling to deliver.

    My only further point is that you won't see the pressure on prison places reduced unless the government also changes its attitude towards recreational drug use. The policy as it stands will continue to deliver an endless supply of "criminals".

  11. Steven_L
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I believe one key to reducing the prison population is spending money on detox for hard drugs addicts. Detox is expensive and successive governments have underfunded getting people off herion. It is a false economy in my view, paying a few thousand to get someone off drugs is better than the expense of the police, courts, prison and probation services in the long run.

    Secondly fining down and out thieves is counterproductive. They just steal more to pay the fines and spiral further down the slope. If they decide not to pay the fines more money is spent through the courts, police and ultimately the prison and probabtion services. They should be sent into prisons at the weekend to clean the toilets and wash the dishes.

    Thirdly, the incarceration of sadistic killers could be outsourced to somewhere like Thailand. We could pay them a third of the money we spend in a year and they'd be able to make a profit.

  12. mikestallard
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    We live near a Category A prison (HMP Whitemoor, March) and I volunteered to be on the Board that makes sure it is run properly. The organisation I applied to is shambolic and I never heard that they got my application.
    But I thought the prison was run very well with lots of people trying to make the prisoners happy and also useful. There was, of course, only one inmate per cell.(Sentence left out-ed).
    It is not a bad way of life actually, and it took me back to my early years at boarding school except that it was warm (winter time) and the food and work were good. Clothes were good too. Also the cells were clean, and exactly like the university bedsits in the University of East Anglia. The biggest difference of course was the amount of female staff who were (to us) polite and savvy.
    The warders seemed eagle eyed and pretty savvy too.
    I reckon that it was not exactly Shawshank Redemption and that I wouldn't mind going back there once I knew my way around.
    Is that what you were expecting me to say?

  13. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Considering what you have written John I think that bolstering marriage is key – family breakdown causes many social problems that fuel crime . Also white collar crime is hit too hard . Do we really want to scare business out of Britain by going for draconian penalties like they do in the USA ? Drug treatment places need to be provided to a greater extent so that can be tackled & 24 hour drinking has not produced an EU Cafe culture – just more booze fuelled crime & violence . If MP’s where really democratic they would hold a referendum on hanging – that would reduce the prison population by stopping hardworking taxpayers having to fund keeping murderers alive . We need a poll on leaving the EU & on the death penalty . When will the liberal elite in Westminster trust the people & have a vote on those issues ?When people are released from prison they need more targeted support so that they can integrate more effectively into civic society . We need elected police chief’s & judges who rely on the voters for their pay & pensions . That would cut out PC rubbish and red tape over night as these people had to trim their sales to accept the popular will . I certainly favour deporting foriegn criminals – why must we import low lifes when we do such a good job of creating our own ? I would get the Chuches involved in helping drug addicts as the evidence from the USA suggests that they do a better job than big government .

  14. Matthew Reynolds
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Considering what you have written John I think that bolstering marriage is key – family breakdown causes many social problems that fuel crime . Also white collar crime is hit too hard . Do we really want to scare business out of Britain by going for draconian penalties like they do in the USA ? Drug treatment places need to be provided to a greater extent so that can be tackled & 24 hour drinking has not produced an EU Cafe culture – just more booze fuelled crime & violence . If MP’s where really democratic they would hold a referendum on hanging – that would reduce the prison population by stopping hardworking taxpayers having to fund keeping murderers alive . We need a poll on leaving the EU & on the death penalty . When will the liberal elite in Westminster trust the people & have a vote on those issues ?When people are released from prison they need more targeted support so that they can integrate more effectively into civic society . We need elected police chief’s & judges who rely on the voters for their pay & pensions . That would cut out PC rubbish and red tape over night as these people had to trim their sales to accept the popular will . I certainly favour deporting foriegn criminals – why must we import low lifes when we do such a good job of creating our own ? I would get the Chuches involved in helping drug addicts as the evidence from the USA suggests that they do a better job than big government .

  15. Freeborn John
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I think it is certainly the case that prison rarely works in rehabilitating offenders, but its primary purpose should be viewed as protecting the public. It may be a counsel of despair but I feel that prevention is easier than cure and that educating young people to be upstanding citizens is more effective than trying to rehabilitate those that have gone bad. I can’t help but feel that the British education system is not particularly good at this.

    Fundamentally, if one believes that it is the pursuit of happiness (or alternatively the avoidance of unhappiness) that ultimately motivates all men then there are other ways to inflict unhappiness on law-breakers than just the deprivation of their liberty. Fines are likely to be more effective than a custodial sentence in preventing first time offenders from becoming habitual criminals and I tend to agree that heavy fines are the appropriate pain for ‘white-collar’ crime. Prison is certainly necessary for the violent criminals from whom the public needs a protection that only the deprivation of their liberty can afford. Prison is also undeniably effective in preventing re-offending while the law-breaker is inside. But except for violent or habitual criminals I feel this benefit is likely to be outweighed by the cost to society of locking someone up, and giving up on the contribution to society that he might make should non-custodial sentences prove effective.

    Citizens who violate the law of the land must expect to lose some of the rights that law-abiding citizens enjoy. Wherever the EU creates a negative right, i.e. an obligation on a member-state not to prevent a citizen of another member-state from doing something (e.g. the freedom to live or work in another member-state, etc., etc.), then it should be clear that he/she may lose such rights if they break the criminal law of the country they have chosen to go to. If the state can forcibly deprive law-breakers of their liberty then it can certainly deprive them of lesser rights such as the free movement of workers in the common market! As I understand it, it is only the financial concerns of countries such as Poland with large numbers of their citizens living elsewhere in Europe which prevents the deportation of EU criminals back to their country of origin.

  16. Puncheon
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    First, reform the drugs laws – it is no business of mine or the Government for that matter what anyone chooses to imbibe in the privacy of their own homes. Legalise and tax. But make being under the influence in public a serious offence. This would remove a large number from the legal/prison system. Second, separate the mad and sad from the bad. Help the former as much as we can even though it will cost a lot, and come down hard on the latter. Prison for the bad should be made very, very unpleasant and very hard – no perks just lots of hard work and disclipline. And take away all their civil rights and liberties, perhaps then they would come to appreciate a little more the society they have attacked and degraded. The problem is that for many inmates prioson is actually better than the outside at the moment. Finally, the mad and sad element in prison , large I agree, has been hugely increased in recent years by the completely misguided Care in the Community policy, concocted by the liberal/psychobabble wets in cahoots with a penny pinching Treasury.

  17. Tim Leunig
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    When I was burgled in c. 2000, they caught the man, and he had to pay me back the amount of my insurance excess. Unfortunately he had no money to do so, so he had to go into the police station and pay in 50p each week from his benefits. The police then banked the 50p (which will have cost them about 50p a go), and wrote me a cheque for 50p (which will have cost them about 30p), and posted it to me (25p including envelope), each week, plus staff time, record keeping, etc. I asked the police to keep the 50p for their tea fund, but that was not allowed. It all seemed very bureaucratic, and he only remembered to pay erratically (the police told me that his IQ was so low they felt he should be in supported housing), so the police then had to chase him up, etc etc. It seemed to involve a lot of police time, for very little benefit to any of us – all it did was remind me of being burgled each week.

    So yes, I think we should keep the non-violent out of prison if we can, but it can be surprisingly difficult to get money out of (at least some) burglars.

  18. Chris M
    Posted March 7, 2008 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    There appears to be one concept that politicians of all colours seem to fail to grasp – that it is not prison that doesn't work, it is our implementation of prison that has failed.

    Why are drugs so pervasive in prison? These are supposed to be locked down secure institutions. If certain prisoners are drug addicts then they should be put on a detox program with strict controls to break their dependence.

    If prisons act as universities of crime, then an alternative program of education should be provided. Prisons should encourage local businesses to take advantage of free labour (within the confines of the prison) in exchange for training.This could be manufacturing, clerical, or any other concept of work that the private sector can come up with – they are typically more creative than your average politician (present company excepted!). Over time wages can be introduced and used to pay for prison upkeep and compensation for the victims – with some going into a trust fund for the prisoner to help them upon their release.

    Why are arbitrary sentences handed out after which time prisoners are automatically released? Tariffs should be handed out based on the minimum amount of time that must be served as punishment. After that time has been served prisoners must demonstrate their suitability for release, including demonstrating that they have somewhere to live and somewhere to work – this can be with the assistance of the public sector, even with temporary holding accommodation. Time would be added to their tariff for bad behaviour, rather than shaved off for good behaviour.

    Basically if prison is not working, then it must be made to work – the government have a duty to protect the public that they serve and to accomplish this an effective penal system is a basic requirement. If the result of a properly functioning penal system is more prisoners, then so be it no matter how distasteful that may seem to some people. And if it is forecast that there will ever be more prisoners than the system is designed to cope with, then the building of more prison spaces is the only reasonable response.

  19. Stuart Fairney
    Posted March 8, 2008 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    I loved the idea of outsourcing criminals to Thailand, but to come to the point, I heard John Reid in a radio interview declare there were about 100,000 persistent offenders and 80,000 prison places. I'm a simple soul, so one measure seems pretty obvious.

    Second, I really do think that "three strikes" is a sound policy. You need to be pretty bad to be jailed in the UK today. If you commit a serious offence for which you are jailed, I'm happy to give someone every chance to turn their life around. I'm happy to do it a second time, but there comes a point when you have to say "Okay, you've had many chances and now we will make sure that you never rob, burgle, mug, assault or otherwise commit offences against innocent people again. Our job is to protect law abiding people who pay our salaries, and therefore having been warned repeatedly and having had many chances you will now die in jail.

    Third, and here is where it's most difficult to accept, around half to two-thirds of all crime is drug related. I would not recommend anyone take drugs, yet our current policy of prevention is a total failure. I'm a middle-age, middle-class white man living in the prosperous South-East, yet I could go out tonight and buy any drug you care to mention. If I can do it, anyone can, (I must stress this is theoretical, I do not buy or otherwise use drugs). Why do we continue to make gangsters rich, and inflict pointless resultant crime on many, many people as addicts steal to fund their addiction. Drugs are bad, but people take them. Legalise, regulate, take significant tax revenue, bust gangsters and cut crime in half.

    As to the last point, I would urge you to seriously consider the wider issues involved in our failed policy of prohibition.

  20. jane
    Posted March 9, 2008 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Why do we have the problems. We are aware that detection and conviction rates have remained stable despite huge advances in technology. It seems to me that government policy has contributed to the overcrowding. The focus has been on public protection (what is that) and we now have some 3000 prisoners sentenced to a public protection indeterminate sentence. Magistrates are sentencing more people to custody too and these are for short sentences. This seems to be as a result of public judgement on sentencing. We all believe that crime is a serious problem – look at the news over the past few weeks with so many individuals sentenced for horrific murders. Yet, studying the figures the homicide rate has remained fairly constant. over many years. Crime – whether it be recorded or under the British Crime Survey has fallen – we somehbow do not believe this. Neither do we believe the government when they state this. We need an independent body to report separately from government and to monitor recording of crime. When crime recording determines part of a budget then odd things will happen. We have all heard of the young schoolboy who bullied his friends into giving him money. When apprehended, this was recorded as x robbery offences.

    I also read recently that some 15% of the prison population are foreign nationals. No doubt some are being held prior to deportation. I also read in my local newspaper that despite local magistrates calling for an individual to be deported, they have been advised that it is not policy to do so unless the offence is serious and the person presents a risk to the public. The report indicated that the person had some 30 shoplifting offences committed within a short period of time. Think of the cost – court, defence solicitor, interpretor etc etc. The whole system is a nightmare and government are failing the law abiding public by placing hurdles on those who should be removed from our country when they offend. No other European country permits the lengthy and costly appeal procedure (benefitting lawyers) and other European countries are subject to the same European legislation on human rights. It seems to me that my rights as a law abiding taxpayer are of a lower priority than those who offend. I understand that a prison place costs about £36,000 per annum and that it is a deterrant albeit an expensive one.

    The report does offer many incentives to modify behaviour for those sentenced to imprisonment and this must be good. I like the idea of a minimum and maximum sentence as it is important in terms of prisons being able to control inmates. It will also be important to ensure that sufficient activities and skills are available to ensure motivation is maintained. Difficult to do this if the prison is bursting at the seams and containment is the only focus.

    I can remember reading a book about "growing out of crime" and I assume that the majority of prisoners are still young men. If we are to reduce crime even further, then an awful lot of social policy needs to be changed. We need technical or skills schools to ensure those who are not academic are trained to do jobs. We need to change welfare policy to ensure that all young people know they need to work for a living. The economy and number of jobs available are important. I think it is dreadful that many of our young people refuse to take jobs because they feel the wages are too low and these jobs are taaken by migrant workers. This is a ludicrous policy and someone needs to break the cycle of dependence. Ensuring resources are redirected to surveillance and detection – this may reduce crime further with perhaps some young people weighing up that the risks are too great. We must also tackle addictions be it drugs or alcohol. Again social policy can play a part to modify behaviour. We have poured millions into drug rehabilitation and yet I am unaware of the outcomes of such programmes.

    We need to revisit public protection. We now have all agencies involved in the criminal justice system stating that this is their priority. This is clear nonsense as no community based agency can protect the public 24 hours a day. A newspaper report relating to the disappearance of a child recently stated that some 1400 sex offenders lived within a 25-30mile radius of the child's home. This is misleading as it leaves the public with the impression that some 1400 predatory paedophiles are roaming the area. The sex offenders register has young men aged 16 having sex with their girlfriend by consent. The offence is that the girlfriend was not aged 16. Downloading pornography warrants being on the sex offender register – these people are not necessarity predators. We need honesty in the system and I do not think we are getting it. Crime is big business with a lot of vested interest. Everyone is vying for public resources – each part of the system believes they need more despite shocking outcome and performance. Look at reoffending rates!

    Finally, I disagree with some of the comment above as white collar crime can have devastating effects on society. Look at what happened to Enron employees. Whilst it is right that serious violent and sexual offenders are incarcerated so too should serious fraudsters or any other offender. Sentencing must also be a deterrant.

  21. James
    Posted March 10, 2008 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    Perhaps we should stop imprisoning people for filling in the wrong benefit form, and start imprisoning crooked politicians that take undeclared illegal donations.

  22. Andrew Carswell
    Posted March 10, 2008 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood,

    Can I tell you that I'm delighted to see that you have written on your blog about the current state of our prison system. I, as a conservative and someone who is deeply concerned about the state of our prisons am glad that a person such as yourself is addressing the newer options available in tackling offenders.

    I am a huge fan of restorative justice for instance and I also agree with you when you talk of sending petty criminals to jail when really other punishments are more appropriate. I am also appalled at the number of mentally ill people we send to jail each year. Many people offend because they themselves have been victims of horrendous crimes such as sexual abuse. We need to help them resolve their own 'issues' so that they will stop harming others in the same way. It is simple logic and amazes me that the government is not doing something to help these people. They are putting others at risk!

    I am not however advocating that prison should no longer be used as useful deterrent and punishment. I am saying that we need to take action now to ensure that we help to make prison what it should be- a rehabilitation center where people that have committed crimes are then released back in to society with them ready to live within the law.

    I hope that when we look back in the not too distant future we will see how antiquated and out of touch our prison system is. Hopefully by then we will have reached the correct balance of rehabilitation for those who need it, and genuine cold punishment for what you rightly identified as a minority or offenders.

  23. Dave J
    Posted March 13, 2008 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    Tim, that's a very bizarrely bureaucratic and inefficient way of doing things. Here in Florida, restitution is generally ordered broken down into monthly payments as a condition of probation, but if the defendant's not currently capable of paying, the restitution order can be reduced to a civil judgment. Thus, when and if the defendant ever DOES have income or assets, the judgment could then be recorded as a lien and used to attach them. Admittedly that's not terribly likely to happen, but it's better than nothing.

  24. claire stokoe
    Posted April 14, 2008 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I have recently been researching an article on Restorative justice for the ‘Criminal justice organisation – Backstop’ and have to agree with your points on a need for prison reforms. It is so refreshing to hear someone of your political calibre express his concerns on such an explosive subject, it is right that criminals need to be punished, but the type of retribution is something that is in dire need of re-consideration.

    Although I feel that Restorative Justice would not instantly replace some of the methods we have working in the criminal justice system at this moment in time. It would undoubtedly make a difference to the lives of some victims and criminals in the short term and if supported by the government, could lead to less young people being sent to jail for non violent offences. Petty crimes such as thieving and property damage would be dealt with in individual or community justice projects.

    The other benefits of this measure would be aiding victims to come to terms with what happened to them either through financial means or an apology from the criminal. The criminals themselves would benefit from an understanding of the affect of their crimes and would benefit the local communities in these young people being involved in small community projects like cleaning graffiti etc.

    Great post and definitely a topic that I think will be around for quite some time yet

  • 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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