More prisons or fewer prisoners?


             I attended a fascinating seminar in Oxford on Saturday evening about whether the prison population could be safely reduced. Let me share some of the thoughts and facts with you which emerged, on a topic where I claim no expertise.

               We were told that between 1918 and 1939 the prison population averaged around 10,000. Only 1,000 prisoners were in for more than four years.  Today the prison population in England and Wales is around 88,000. 37,000 are in for more than four years or for an indeterminate sentence.   11,367 prisoners were foreign nationals in March 2010, more than the typical inter war total of all prisoners. 

                   72% of the male prisoners are said to be suffering from two or more mental disorders, 66%  used drugs in the previous year and 67% were unemployed before prison.   Half are scarcely literate and have no qualifications. More than 3% of the male prison population is said to be ex servicemen.

                    At the same time as witnessing a surge in prison sentences there has been a large reduction in the use of fines. These roughly halved from 1992 to 2009.  At any given time around 7,500 are serving sentences of under one year. 61% of these will be reconvicted within one year of release.

                     No-one can be pleased with the social portrait these figures reveal. The country does not behave well towards ex servicemen, often leaving them without homes and jobs to go on discharge from the services, and with little support or back up to help them adjust to civilian life. We do not manage to treat enough drug users before their addiction becomes chronic and leads to other crimes to support their habit. Short sentences are too short to train, improve or reform criminals serving them, but often add to  the difficulty for the criminal  finding home and job by legal means on leaving prison.

                          Between 1992 and 2009 violent and sexual crimes, the most serious crimes, remained fairly constant in numbers. Burglary halved, whilst drug offences more than doubled. The anatomy of the prison population tells us that we need to be much tougher and more successful at getting people off drugs and getting people into lawful employment. Of course the electorate  expects long custodial sentences for criminals who have committed serious crimes and repreesent a further threat to the public. For others, surely we want prevention or punishment that suits the crime and makes re-offending less likely, not a racing certainty.


  1. norman
    December 6, 2010

    “The anatomy of the prison population tells us that we need to be much tougher and more successful at getting people off drugs and getting people into lawful employment. ”

    Good luck on that one. I wouldn’t say legalise all drugs (even though I’d like to see that, not because I harbour a deep desire to waste my life away in a drug addled haze, but because I believe in freedom of choice) because that will never happen but possession of all drugs should be decriminalised and long term heroin addicts should be given pharmaceutical heroin under strict conditions.

    As you show, as a percentage of population it’s hard to argue that serious criminals (violent, sexual) numbers are increasing. Rather our government is creating more laws and conditions that are turning more people into criminals. It’s one way to show you’re getting on crime, make more people criminals and then lock them up. May not be the best long term solution for the country but when did that ever matter?

    1. electro-kevin
      December 6, 2010

      Don’t let me stop you from paying for it then.

      During a time when medicines are being rationed by NICE people would be rather put out if forced to stump up to pay for self-abuse.

      1. Bazman
        December 7, 2010

        ‘66% used drugs in the previous year’ Didn’t read that bit did you?

  2. lifelogic
    December 6, 2010

    Interestingly the US prison population has risen from about 100,000 in 1920 to nearly 2.5M now for a population of £307M only about 5 times ours. So not a good path to follow and very expensive too.

    On a similar basis we would have not 88,000 but 500,000 held.

    Clearly releasing such people without proper support is virtually inviting new crime, new court actions and prison again. Again the EU and excessive movements of people and EU restrictions increase the problem.

    Prison is clearly needed to keep dangerous people and rapists of the streets and to deter habitual criminals from their chosen professions. If people have mental or drug problems but are not violent it is unlikely to deter and serves little purpose.

    So often in these matters the criminal justice system tends to be run for the benefit of the legal, social services and other similar professions as they have the biggest input to the system and it is their income source.
    Their interest is for more work tax funded – so almost directly opposed to the interest of the public.

    It needs to be run intelligently and for the benefit of the population in general. Rather like everything everything else. You have to therefore get the interests of the workers in the area in line with those of the public to make any progress.

  3. gyges
    December 6, 2010

    In our judiciary,

    what is the probability that someone has committed a crime given that he has been convicted of that crime?

  4. Stuart Fairney
    December 6, 2010

    Of course in the inter-war years detection rates were lower (no DNA or CCTV) and hardly anyone could commit a motoring offence, and in truth there was less to steal. Also far fewer laws to actually break. Also, there would surely have been a genuine fear of harsh punishment and a much, much smaller social welfare state to produce tomorrows criminals.

    But the reality is with 100,000 persistent criminals and only 80,000 prison places we can expect ongoing lawlessness with no solution from politicians like the Justice Secretary. I note that a former Labour minister thought the UK so safe that she claimed for private security guards on expenses and Mr Blair is protected by the same guns he has banned the rest of us from owning.

    Yet again we are thrown to the wolves by the failed political class.

    1. Mark
      December 6, 2010

      Do you have evidence that detection rates were lower? I would suggest there was a lot less crime because of a more homogeneous society with a common moral understanding, less mobility, and so forth.

      1. alan jutson
        December 6, 2010


        I tend to agree with your comment.

        Also fewer Laws with a rather more sensible interpretation of degree in sentencing.

      2. Stuart Fairney
        December 7, 2010

        Yes, that’s a fair point, I was assuming in the absence of evidence.

      3. rose
        December 7, 2010

        Also women were at home, policing each neighbourhood. The moral truncheon was gossip, and though oppressive, did keep a lot of people safe.

  5. Jason O'Mahony
    December 6, 2010

    A very measured and thoughtful piece, John. Well done. Unfortunately we can’t discount the problem of discussing rational criminal justice policy in an age of media hysteria. As Sideshow Bob said in The Simpsons, ” what (people) really want is a Republican to cut taxes, brutalise criminals and rule over you like a king!”

  6. electro-kevin
    December 6, 2010

    If you make it so that being responsible and self-reliant pays and people who are responsible and self-reliant is what you will get.

    If you make it so that prison is so horrible that people will not want to go there then they will do their very best not to go there.

    Drug addicts are not victims. They are criminals. There is no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’ because there is no war on the demand (the addicts). A drunk driver is (rightly) reviled for causing an accident – he is not seen as the victim in need of rehabilitation; look how effective this policy has been. So why are we treating a drug abuser who causes a burglary or an injury any differently ?

    A rule of thumb: Stop trying to mother those who you see as less able – they’re more capable than you think. If you stick to protecting those hard working people who get things right and leave us to do the rest it will all work out fine.

    As it is I lose sleep over where this country is headed in terms of law and order. It is as though decent people have been abandoned. I am ashamed to show foreign friends my country and have to spend much of my time pretending that anti-social behaviour isn’t happening around me.

  7. Jose
    December 6, 2010

    Surely today’s prisoner numbers cannot simply be compared with a period of 70 ago when the population has grown by a large amount.
    I believe one of the answers is gainful employment and another is education. Many people living in ‘sink’ estates see no need for either better education or work as the ‘state’ provides them with everything they need. The government must reduce the ‘attractiveness’ of benefits and ensure that there are incentives for people to work. The extent of how effective education can be on the people who live in these estates is difficult to gauge as so many of them view it with suspicion.
    On this issue Ken Clarke is right, there are far too many people serving meaningless, short sentences. They would be better working for society outside of prison, e.g. doing community work!

  8. Richard
    December 6, 2010

    Why are we still attempting the futile prohibition of drugs which ties up massive amounts of Police time, lands tens of thousands users and dealers in jail and just funnels money into the hands of criminal gangs.

    Over 60% of petty crime is carried out to generate money to buy illegal drugs.

    We have legalised tobacco and alcohol. The state organises and controls the supply of these addictive products and applies taxes to raise useful revenue.

    For class A drugs, bring back the registered addicts scheme where addicts get their supplies free on prescription.

    Cannabis and other lower classified drugs should be state supplied and taxed at a total price which undercuts the black market dealers.

    There is an excellent study of the effects of attempting to continue with the prohibition of popular drugs in the USA the book Freakonomics.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      December 6, 2010

      This is a fair point, if we can’t keep drugs away from people that we essentially lock in cages, what hope for prohibition?

      I think the smarter politicians (not all of ’em by any means) realise this, but like other red flag issues like say, local government finance, they are too afraid to address it.

    2. Big John
      December 6, 2010

      The coalition government is ditching the requirement to seek scientific advice before setting drugs policy.

      Police reform legislation introduced last week will remove the requirement to listen to scientists before setting policy.

      After all, why waste money to ignore a damn good and reasonable scientific argument when we can just make things up with no knowledge at all?!

  9. StrongholdBarricades
    December 6, 2010

    I am interested in the fact that “fines” are used less.

    Is this because the judiciary recognise that fining someone who has no money is self defeating?

  10. Woodsy42
    December 6, 2010

    You have missed a third option in your title. We could have fewer laws.
    Complex and obtuse financial rules from benefits at the low end to company taxation and money trading at the top allow criminality by their complexity. Carbon trading is a ticket to scammers. Taxation and customs duty rules are much too complex. Most of those drug takers in prison are there not because they took drugs but because they committed crimes to pay for their supply – prohibition creates a violent criminal class, whether it’s heroin or alcohol in the 20s USA – you politicians could remove that entire criminal edifice at a stroke.
    Make life simpler, make laws simpler, and there will be fewer criminals.

  11. eddyh
    December 6, 2010

    I agree entirely with Richard. Legalise all drugs and tax the recreational ones, this will stop the pushers incentive to entrap the young onto hard drugs and enable the state to offer meaningful help to addicts who want to quit.

  12. Robert K
    December 6, 2010

    Thank you for this thoughtful analysis.
    To answer your question – fewer prisoners
    A rising proportional prison population is a hallmark of an intrusive state. Rather than seeking recompense for the victim of a crime, the state interposes itself as the victim and then uses taxpayers’ cash to pay the costs of prosecution, defence, conviction and prison time. The balance needs to be shifted so criminals are forced to compensate their victims rather than spend time in jail (which costs about £30,000 a year, I believe).
    Narcotics should be de-criminalised. Prohibition is immoral and drives underground an unstoppable market, at vast cost to the public purse.

  13. Neil Craig
    December 6, 2010

    I am interested in your figures for ex-servicemen & figures between the wars. In that period there were hundreds of times more ex-servicemen & they had been through a war far more traumatic than that faced today. Yet the total prison population was only 4 times the servicemen currently in prison. This suggests either a more thorough breakdown of social values, including drug use, or that prison is not as fearsome as it was. I suspect both but mostly (including the lack of a death penalty) the latter. It seems to me to be moral cowardice but no kindness to punish 88,000 people lightly when making an example of the worst 10,000 would be more effective.

  14. John
    December 6, 2010

    For others, surely we want prevention or punishment that suits the crime and makes re-offending less likely, not a racing certainty.

    I never expected to hear such a platitude from you, John.

    What makes re-offending less likely? The socialists could talk all day about this, but it is always just so much hot air.

    If an ex-prisoner decides to re-offend it’s impossible for him or her to do so more than twice with a three strikes and you’re out policy. This is the only certainty possible with prison policy. All the rest is just politics, and methinks you are on the wrong side on this issue.

  15. The ESSEX BOYS
    December 6, 2010

    May we repeat a submission we made for the party via an Essex MP in August 2008.
    As with every well-intentioned idea we submit there has been no response and we have found that the Conservatives are not a listening party as they would have the electorate believe. We exclude John Redwood from our criticism but most have their own ideas to peddle and canoes to row and/or are simply too ‘frit’ to comment on and swap views with voters.

    AUGUST 2008
    This concept is based on the notion that penalties should have an element of retribution but should be significantly compensatory and should result with as little of a drain on the nation as possible.
    The following is an outline:

    ·Prisons should be penal establishments which nevertheless are profit centres to undertake useful commercial activity as well as punish, retrain etc

    ·So they should have real commercial activity as their base – manufacturing, service (dirty jobs etc) replicating but competing in the commercial world, paying union rates, incentives and overtime, bonuses etc

    ·The penalty imposed at court would be in three parts:

    * A retributive element recognising the severity of the crime (because of the other two parts of the sentence this would be significantly shorter than currently)
    * A compensatory element – a criminal injuries compensation amount fixed by the judge according to scales and some discretion which is payable to the victim
    * A maintenance element which is a direct contribution by the prisoner towards the cost of keeping him in prison. You could add to that an element for providing family support etc

    The idea is that there is commercial reality to penal policy, the prisoner would be required to earn his keep and the compensation and would have the incentive to work hard for an earlier release.

    There’s much more to it but that’s the bones.

  16. APL
    December 6, 2010

    JR: “We were told that between 1918 and 1939 the prison population ..”

    It is not possible to contrast the begining of the last century with today, then we had a class bound (even after the first world war) racially homogenious population. Today, racally hetrogenious with almost no class barriers, at least none of the constraints that used to restrain criminal activity. In addition during the period 1918 – 1939 the death penalty still existed for capital crimes.

    Today, ‘uman rites trump criminal justice. The two environments and societies could not be more divergent.

    Richard: “Why are we still attempting the futile prohibition of drugs which ties up massive amounts of Police time ..”


    The ‘war on drugs’ has been a wonderful opportuntiy for all those who wish to extend the tenticles of the state into each or our* everyday lives. That is why the apparatus of state terror has not been dismantled.

    It doesn’t mean that you have to have ever gone near contraband, just that somebody in authority merely has a suspicion that you might.

    Then just LOOK OUT.

  17. Martin
    December 6, 2010

    If you legalised drugs just think of the taxes HMRC would be collecting ! Come to think of it revenue hassle would probably be more of a deterrent to drug dealers than police and prison!

    Some of your analysis implies that we have a problem with mental health provision in this country. Waiting times for NHS operations are high profile while mental health provision is not seen as important.

    As for sentence length – the press are the cheer leaders for sentence inflation except of course for things that the press do wrong! As to whether longer sentences do any good I have my doubts. Five years as opposed to four years may impress those who are into revenge but as for the deterrence effect I have my doubts.

    One other problem must be homelessness. Imagine you were a homeless person in this present weather. Commit a few petty crimes and get locked up. Prison may not be nice but I suspect it is better than freezing to death under a railway arch in South London.

    Beware of statistics regarding the period after World War One. Our population was lower and a lot of men were lost in World War One.

    Loss of empire post world war two and the decline of traditional heavy industries has meant our society has become much more turbulent which may well have impacted on crime figures. As others have noted passing laws with criminal penalties does only one thing to prison numbers.

  18. grahams
    December 6, 2010

    Thank you for this illuminating post.
    Society was so different interwar (in many good ways and some bad) that we cannot go back. Short of changing society, however, we can take some practical steps.
    For a start we could all try to be less hypocritical, demanding a lower prison population yet demanding that, for instance, people who commit low level social security frauds or public officials who fiddle their expenses should be “put behind bars”. We could make more use of lifetime bans on driving, holding public office or right to be housed.
    Second, fewer crimes means fewer criminals.
    We could, for example, take a more subtle and pragmatic approach to bans on dangerous drugs than the sterile all-or-nothing argument implies. In a society like the one we have now, many pressured young people will always want drugs. Why not legalise mild doses of those tobacco-like drugs that broadly speaking only harm the user (which might include party drugs and some opiates) while coming down harder on misused- alcohol type drugs that are likely to cause users to become aggressive or psychotic and a danger to others?
    It would be helpful if a politician with your powers of objective analysis took a deeper interest in such non-financial issues.

  19. JT
    December 6, 2010

    Care in the community ? Ever thought that may have an impact ?
    72% of people in jails have mental issues.
    Even if thats a big sympathetic >> assume over half have mental issues
    Over half the people are inadequate. They do not know right from wrong. They do not realise what is or is not harsh punishment. Even when prisons were like Newgate Jail > there were still inmates. Only once the system works from this starting point will it address the issue.
    Make it really tough – and those with mental issues will still go in and out of it.
    Make it really easy – and those with mental issues will still do there.
    People on sink estates with mental issues will end up in prison regardless of whether they live in the lap of £56 luxery – (job seekers) or if they get even more.
    Use the stats to work out what is required.+ 50k have mental issues .. 10k are overseas (and while you’re thinking about it — explain why anyone is imprisioned for visa fraud, before they are deported ? why imprison – just deport. And its not human rites). Leaves around 15k -20k hard core.
    Get away from the pathetic cliches about tvs in jail, making it hard, “chain gangs”, making inmates “work” really hard … Its all been tried – 100’s of years ago.
    Criminals need locking up / supervising / treating / keeping away from society etc etc >> but you have to start with the stats & understanding who is being locked up.

  20. Winston Smith
    December 6, 2010

    I’m surprised you have fallen for an easy manipulation of statistics, Mr Redwood. You have been fooled into thinking prison sentences have replaced fines. However, this is a deception. Instead, cautions have replaced jail or fines. In 2009, 40,000 ABH cases were dealt with by issuing a caution. In 2008 739 people charged with GBH were given a caution. GBH is serious violence. If I beat you senseless in the street, leaving you with broken bones and mentally scarred for life, I could walk away with a caution. As you can see from the link below, the total number of cautions issued have dramatically increased since 2000. The number of cautions given to repeat offenders also show large increases. You only have to watch any of the multitude of police documentaries to see the evidence. I received a £400 fine for a minor assault in 1989 and was told I was lucky to escape prison. Now I would receive a caution for the same offence.

    How many of the 66% of prisoners used drugs in prison? If they used them outside prison, what percentage were recreational drugs? If say 50% had taken recreational drugs in the last year, how different is that from the equivalent age group in the wider population?

    I believe around a third of all fines are never paid. What is the point in fining someone if there is, neither the will, nor the resources to enforce that fine. This is another problem associated with mass immigration, where highly transient migrants are difficult to track.

    Where are the jobs that are to be filled by released prisoners, benefit claimants, delayed pensioners, students and the massive immigration led population growth?

  21. Alan Wheatley
    December 6, 2010

    An interesting post on an enormous topic. I will comment on just one aspect, drugs.

    We hear from time to time, such as on the BBC, that prisoners have easy access to drugs, and that to some extent this is possible because of collusion by prison officers. The illegal use of drugs is surely entirely possible and practical to eliminate in such a closed and controlled regime as a prison. It is desirable not only because of the benefit to those in prison but because of the message in sends to the community at large. If the government can not stamp out illegal drug taking in the prison system then they are obviously not serious about the issue. Children, in particular, will interpret this once again as adults telling them to do one thing while themselves doing the opposite.

    I suggest that it is simply pouring resources into a bottomless pit to concentrate on curing addiction while going soft on the act itself. We seemed to have arrived at a situation where although a criminal offence to be in possession of illegal drugs the police turn a blind eye as long as the are “for personal use”. Prosecution is concentrated on the pushers, which is a waste of time as few every one arrested there are several more replacement ready, willing and able.

    Previous government attempts to take a harder line have faltered when media scrutiny has caused embarrassment. So I suggest government set an amnesty for, say, six months time, after which a zero tolerance regime will come into force and all previous offence will be exempt from prosecution (and media scrutiny, if the media really do want to be helpful). The only way to significantly reduce the use of illegal drugs within the population at large is to make it socially unacceptable.

    We could also do without professors saying, or at any rate being reported as having said, that alcohol is more dangerous than heroine.

  22. Tom
    December 6, 2010

    Speaking as someone who has done some voluntary charity work, there is a real need for more voluntary, and free (ie NHS), rehab. homes for drug users and alcoholics. BUT, they must be made to work and not just be token units, AND those who refuse to attempt to cure their addiction (and there are very many who do refuse, or pretend they are trying to do so to avoid further punishment) …. well, Idon’t actually know what to ssuggest. It is a serious problem. But it should be possible to ensure that there are no drugs in prisons, even if this means infringing prisoners “rights”.

  23. Iain Gill
    December 6, 2010

    Various things need sorting

    1 Youngsters below 18 need firmer hand of guidance from sources of adult common sense, police, teachers and decent adults should be supported if they intervene. Firmer boundaries need putting in place. I am sorry a bunch of teenagers beating up a copper or teacher being allowed back on the streets within a few hours of being arrested is not sending the right signals. Normal decent adults intervene and find their house vandalised or car stolen the next night, really much more could be done to support decent folk doing the right thing.

    2. Real disincentives for folk of all income strata need putting in place. At the moment fines and so on can be quite effective against middle ranking working folk, they are totally ineffectual against those on benefits or the very rich. Needs a carrot and stick approach.

    3. Senior politicians in charge of the criminal justice system should be forced to live in some inner city or problematic estates every now and then. The liberal elite in charge would soon change their tune if subjected to the worst extremes the poor decent folk have to put up with.

    4. As IDS has identified with the schools, much of the damage is done before the kids ever get to school age, its the same with prisons much of the damage is already done before the hard core are adults. Needs radical reassessment of how out of control teenagers are handled – particularly those in care where the standards of care they get can be useless – and the males with no male role models in their life.

    5. I am sure I would have gone off the rails at that age if I had not had my father and other male adults around who knew me and who were prepared to physically intervene in those formative years! Given the way hormones affect males in those years it if a self fulfilling prophecy when males are brought up surrounded by females only in their lifes, and often only female teachers at school too. This may not be politically correct but it’s at the heart of the problem in modern day UK.

    6. Immigration issues are part of the mix. Some of the recent arrivals have radically different attitudes to the police, the community, to how they approach life. Again it’s not politically correct to highlight this, but it’s hardly a surprise to me that we have problems with folk of some backgrounds given the nature of the society they or their parents have left.

    7. Jonathan King (famous music producer etc) and other ex convicts, although they clearly did wrong if the courts got their verdicts correct, talk a lot of common sense on the prison system. I’ve heard a few of the things Jonathan has to say on the criminal justice system and I have a lot of sympathy for what he says. We should listen to folk like this much more, they are the real experts in what could be done to improve the situation.

  24. Stuart Fairney
    December 6, 2010

    “For others, surely we want prevention or punishment that suits the crime and makes re-offending less likely, not a racing certainty”

    Speak for yourself, I want people carrying knives locked up for a long, long time (and you know, actually do what you said you would in the manifesto).

    Do you agree that the manifesto committment should be ditched?

  25. Eoin Clarke
    December 6, 2010

    It costs £34,000 to house a prisoner for one year. That is clearly too much. There should be a mixture of sentecning review [crimes against property punished less, crimes against humans punished more].

    Prisons, should be run liek businesses… give them low to medium product assembly skills [Morphy Richards Kettle factory comes to mind or an Abotoire].

    Most crucially, detach the young first time offenders from the bad lot…

    Lastly, I think as part of mitigation, the court should consider societal culpability. Poor parenting, poor life chances etc.

    A report should also be considered on profiling… and a young as possible age. I taught in an inner city comp school in Notts. Believe me when I say it was possible to identify future offenders. Withdraw these from the classroom assign social care, pending risk assessment reports of likeliehood to offend, intervention could/should be authorised if known substance abuse is a factor.

    Of course, most of this will never come to pass. Pity.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      December 7, 2010

      £34,000 to house a prisoner for one year in the UK. Why don’t contract out our prisoners to Afghanistan/Pakistan or China for say £3 a day?

      It might also make prison seem less attractive to offenders.

    2. Winston's Black Dog
      December 9, 2010

      Can somebody explain to me why it costs more to keep somebody in a prison than the fees charged by our best public schools?

      My first impression is that the prison environment must be too soft. Gymnasiums and swimming pools of better standard than the average municipal ones for instance.

  26. English Pensioner
    December 6, 2010

    Between 1918 and 1939, we had Capital Punishment.
    It would be interesting to know how many of those now in prison have been convicted of murder and whom would probably have been hung in those days.
    Also, because of the death penalty, I suspect that the amount of violent crime was probably less as criminals were more likely to be careful not to go “too far”, and because criminals would be held “jointly responsible”,the tendency to form gangs was probably also less,

    1. Stuart Fairney
      December 7, 2010

      Don’t quote me but I think I saw some stats to the effect that of people who would have previously faced the death penalty, but were subsequently released after a sentence, around 300 of ’em went on to commit further killings.

      So next time somone argues about the death of innocents, you might want to explain how the death penalty actually prevents this (plus of course, we are happy to send out innocent troops to certain death, but not our convicted murderers!)

  27. rose
    December 6, 2010

    Good to have some honest figures for a change. Can you find out how many are from broken homes, how many are children of unmarried mothers, and how many are the children or grandchildren of foreigners? And how many are naturalised?

    1. alan jutson
      December 7, 2010


      From certain knowledge many who are in prison have had a drugs related problem, and as Johns figures show, many are from overseas, many from Countries where internal wars have taken place, and the rule of law has completely broken down.

      In short very many who are in Prison have had no good role models to guide them, or had any form or sense of discipline to their lives.

      1. rose
        December 7, 2010

        I am in sympathy with you on this Alan, but what a lot we have bitten off so thoughtlessly and must now chew. Thank heaven for IDS, but he has arrived very late in the day. And on top of all of that, as if it weren’t enough to cope with, it always appals me how many people fetch up here from failed states, civil wars, godless tyrannies, mediaeval theocracies, etc. and are expected to muck in with modern English city life as if they were Dutch or Danish.

        1. alan jutson
          December 7, 2010



          Yes we (our Politicians) must need our heads examined given that during the last couple of decades we seem to have let almost anyone into our Country who has a reasonable sob story.

          I am all for allowing some people in who are under a real threat of death etc, but not the vast amount who seem to be allowed in.

          We send our money, young men and women to their Country to try and sort out their problems, many return either in a box or badly wounded, whilst they come here to be safe and sound, never to return.

          Does not seem like a good deal, or right or fair really.

          Perhaps we should have manditory conscription for those who choose to want to live here.

  28. Kenneth
    December 6, 2010

    I agree with Robert K above.

    I think we have too many policemen/women; we have too many criminals; we have too many laws. To answer your headline question: ‘more prisons or fewer prisoners?’, I would opt for fewer prisoners.

    The state has forged a direct relationship with the criminal, as it has done with many of the rest of us through hand-outs. The state has bypassed the rest of the family letting them off the hook.

    I think we should be charging the costs of prison keep directly to the prisoner, with the rest of the family stumping up where the prisoner cannot pay (which will most often be the case). The prisoner should also contribute with real work in prison.

    I know that giving responsibility to the wider family is not possible right now as we do not have the mechanisms to do it. However I believe we must work towards a system of registering family members so that they can take their share of responsibility. I am sure that if we did this every family member would be keen to police their own members and many criminals would think twice before committing crimes.

    I also think that many more drugs should be decriminalised and dispensed in a controlled way where appropriate. Once again families will take on more responsibility for dealing with drug problems of one of their member if they have a stake in their rehabilitation.

    I know this is not a perfect idea (none are I suppose); I know that it will not cover every situation, but I am convinced that we have treated mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins, etc as bystanders when they should be an integral part of the solution.

    I feel that the state MUST step back. The call that ‘we are all in this together’ should apply to criminality as much as it does to our debt predicament. By involving all members of families, and therefore nearly all of society this may come to pass. At the moment though, when it comes to the crime, many are completely ‘out of it’

  29. Jane
    December 6, 2010

    I spent my working life within the Criminal Justice System initially as a sentencer and then practitioner. The statistics are well known to me as too is the cost of £40,000 per year often to house individuals. Much of the prison population as you state have addiction problems as well as mental health issues. The latter has increased steadily since the closure of the old asylums and the introduction of Care in the Community. Prisons offer a safe haven for such people. In addition the prison population have a number of other problems such as literacy and lack of skills.

    Sentencing patterns have changed dramatically. Research has always indicated that when the country is financially stable and indeed in periods of feeling good, we tend to be lenient to those who transgress the law. Sadly, the past decade has thrown away this notion as we have become much more punitive as reflected in the amount of legislation, new offences and increased incarceration. If one compares this to the reduction in crime, huge resources put into the system, more prison places, more police officers, more drug treatment places, better technology etc etc, one can say with certainty that this system is in a mess.

    Detection rates have deteriorated despite all the extra police resources. We have tended to use these resources on soft tasks such as MAPPA , attendance at every community meeting taking place and visits to schools. We have decriminalised many offences – particularly public order when fixed penalty notices are now the norm. Other systems have been introduced in recording of crime as reflected in a Home Office Select Committee from a few years ago which ups poor detection rates. In all we have a most inefficient police system which is costly and ineffective. Our financial sanctions against offenders is also abysmal. Fines are not used as much – wrong as hitting somones pocket is an effective punishment. We also have a soaring legal aid bill as we provide more assistance in many areas of law that most other countries.

    By far the most disgraceful piece of legislation introduced in recent years has been the inderminate public protection sentence. Originally intended for a couple of hundred serious offenders such as paedophiles we now have thousands serving such sentences. A dereliction of duty by sentencers in my opinion and as to be expected the system is not geared for the numbers involved. They come under the lifer section in terms of assessment and we have insufficient staff to do this work.

    As to foreign prisoners. It is time that we had our own Bill of Rights as it is ludicrous that prisoners are asked politely do they wish to return to their own country to serve their sentence. As to be expected they do not and of course we cannot make them as it infringes their human rights. I think Parliament should look at this anomaly as it appears to be the only the UK that strictly adheres to this.

    What we have is a complete failure of political decision making over the past decade. Poor laws that have been poorly drafted. Reduced number of people committing offences and yet a soaring prison population. It seems too often that governments react to the Red Tops. Look at the response to Ken Clarke’s quite sensible assertions about the waste of public money sending people to prison for a short period. His quite reasonable claim that he means to reduce the number of prisons sent many uninformed MPs and the media into a frenzy. The more prisons beds you have you will fill them.

    We need a dramatic overhaul and a government that sticks to key principles rather than respond to the media or the public. We need an overhaul of sentencing policy – sentences have increased and I would argue that we are not a more dangerous society. We must ensure that there is sufficient time for legislation to be scrutinised. We need our own bill of rights to ensure we can remove people to their own country. Australia does this and they do not ask for permission from the offender. We need to improve our education system as it is disgraceful how many offenders are illiterate. With the money we save from closing prisons we should use this to improve addiction facilities and improvements to mental health care. Only then can we improve reconviction rates.

    At least with Ken Clarke we have a chance…….

    1. Stuart Fairney
      December 7, 2010

      But no chance to actually honour manifesto committments about jailing knife carrying thugs.

      He may also wish to ponder what an extraordinarily crminal society we are, check the stats on how few people we jail per offence. I believe it is the second lowest in Europe behind only Sweden. Whereas the Spaniards jail people (per crime committed) at something like four times the UK rates.

      1. rose
        December 7, 2010

        You make a good point here Stuart: I too have long wanted to know how many per crime rather than per head of the population are in prison. could Mr R add that to the list of basic facts to give out?

  30. adam
    December 7, 2010

    To those who pay attention to whats going on in the world, is well known that the Mafia runs the Italian government.
    This rare BBC programme admits that EU grant money goes straight to the Mafia – but far from the BBC portrayal that its an accident, the Mafia guy in their own programme admits the Mafia were “In it from the beginning”

  31. Winston Smith
    December 7, 2010

    Hey! What happened to my post, regarding the issue of cautions? I gave links for all the facts quoted. Was it because I admitted to commiting an offence 20 yrs ago? Was it because I was critical of your interpretation?

    Reply: It was delayed because one of your links did not work. I am always willing to post disagreements with my view as you should know, but posts with links are a bane, as so often they do not work.

  32. Gary
    December 7, 2010

    This piece hints at the real problem. There seems to be something wrong with our society. When you have by far the largest prison population in Europe and we are even contemplating growing it, then surely something else must be wrong. There is , the society has lost its way. I think Ken Clarke understands this.

  33. Ross J Warren
    December 7, 2010

    We have a very large number of people imprisoned either directly or indirectly as a result of Drug laws. There is no simple solution, simply ending prohibition would not result in an end of the black market in hard drugs, and is probably undesirable anyway. However I believe we would be wise to take a cold hard look at this issue, looking for solutions that will reduce the criminality associated with drug use.

    As far as I know the only Drug users who have any hope of obtaining a legal supply of the drug they are using as those who have become addicted to opiates. Indeed our drug services can help such people to manage their lives in a far less criminal way. There is no such help for those using Cocaine which is, I am informed the most popular of the abused drugs currently. Although it is true that Cocaine is not addictive in the same way as heroin there is most certainly a strong psychological dependence.

    I believe that having lost at least one generation to drug dealers we should be doing everything possible to ensure that we do not lose another. If we where to provide real treatment options that ended the need for the vast majority of the addicted to access the black market we should be able to end its strangle hold on so may peoples lives. Of course there would be a cost to the Nation, but the reduction in criminality would be worth the cost. Clearly this is not going to be a battle that is won overnight. It has taken just over one hundred years for prohibition to lead to a vast organized criminal infrastructure exploiting the absence of legal supply. It will not be possible to change that overnight.

    We have a choice we can continue to imprison people at very high cost or we can look for solutions that improve the situation.

  34. Bazman
    December 7, 2010

    Being illiterate has got to be the main ticket to prison and if they are not taught to read and write whilst they are there, then that’s got to be criminal. Would anyone be against the prison population being taught reading?

    1. Ross J Warren
      December 8, 2010

      I would argue that the main ticket into prison is drug use, but your point is still very valid. Some schemes to help prisoners to read and write already exist, but we could do far more.

      Prison has always had a duel purpose on paper, that being to punish and to rehabilitate. Far to often it seems that it fails to do either. Reducing the overall prison population should allow us to concentrate more on the rehabilitation of those incarcerated.

      Although this policy has been forced on us, by a combination of under provision and the high costs associated with keeping people inside, it could be a spring board for the kind of reforms that we have often talked about but never achieved.

      I believe that we should privatise the low security prisons and allow the private sector an opportunity to work with the “petty” offenders.
      A number of incentives could be paid to companies who help prisoners to acquire skills. They could also be paid bonuses when a ex-offender stays out of trouble for two, five and Ten years.

      Carrot and stick can be made to work for both prisoners and the institutions that hold them.

  35. Lindsay McDougall
    December 8, 2010

    An interesting side issue – but very much affecting the outcome – is the extent to which fines have, as an option, been undermined by inflation and egalitarianism. Many fines are – or certainly were – specified in nominal cash terms within legislation. Also, fines do hit the poor hardest; it’s a fact.

    So what to do? How about submitting a bill that is in essence a schedule of fines. For each offence not involving a gaol sentence, specify:
    (1) The minimum fine
    (2) An addition to this minimum related to annual gross income
    (3) The amounts expressed in constant prices with 1st January 2010 as the base date
    (4) The inflation index to be used

  36. adam
    December 8, 2010

    In Guatemala, anger over rampant crime and distrust of the police has led to widespread vigilantism. Though the practice is alarming to human-rights monitors, the public is applauding the efforts, saying they are finally cleaning up their towns.

    Last year, the working-class Mayan town of San Juan Sacatepequez, Guatemala, was overrun with street gangs. Extortionists reportedly went through the phone book — name by name — demanding money and threatening violence against families that didn’t pay. Residents complained of an impotent police force and a justice system that releases criminals back into the population.

    Taking Back The Streets

    Fourteen months ago, the people of San Juan Sacatepequez took matters into their own hands. Every night, men gather in the plaza to go on patrol with machetes, truncheons and two-way radios. On a recent night, a group of 20 men — bundled against the mountain cold, some in balaclavas — walked the darkened, hilly streets of their sector.

    The patrol leader, a local veterinarian nicknamed “The Jackal,” says the gangbangers have mostly left San Juan Sacatepequez, and their security patrols have been so effective that other cities now want to copy them.

  37. adam
    December 8, 2010

    Parents should be free to photograph their children in nativity plays and challenge schools or councils that try to stop them under data protection laws, the Information Commissioner has said.
    Christopher Graham said shots for the family album are exempt from the laws and parents and friends of children in plays should ‘stand ready to challenge any schools or councils that say ‘Bah, Humbug’ to a bit of festive fun’.
    ‘Armed with our guidance, parents should feel free to snap away this Christmas,’ he said.

    Source: Daily Mail

    Well you cant put them in prison for it

  38. Winston's Black Dog
    December 9, 2010

    Basic maths states that if you criminalise more people then the percentage of violent and sexual crimes goes down even though in absolute terms it goes up.

    Ken Clarke makes me sick. He should come out of his EU sponsored ivory tower and come to some of the less prosperous parts of this country. Then he will see whether muggings and the like are coming down in real terms.

    Soft sentencing for violent crimes breeds more violent crime.

    As things stand the only “criminals” guaranteed to receive a custodial sentence are those who withold the police precept from their council tax bills in protest at the inadequacy of the police “service.”

  39. Ian B
    December 9, 2010

    “66% have used drugs in the past year”. The implication of course is that therefore the drugs caused the crime. Ask yourself how many of them, in the past year, had drunk a beer, eaten a cheese sandwich, watched Eastenders, listened to the radio, etc etc.

    It is enormously fallactious to say, “A did X, A did Y, therefore Y and X have a causal relationship”. Nowadays, we’re obsessed with the collection of statistics, but increasinly dishonest in our analysis of them. Look at the economic picture, in which vast swathes of statistics are collected (GDP, inflation etc) but it’s likely that most of them are far from reality. We have a situation in which, for instance, if a couple have a domestic argument and the police are called, if either one of them admits to having drunk so much as a tin of shandy recently, it is declared “drink related”; that is, a causal link between the alcohol and the event is presumed. It is very easy then to declare horror statistics about drugs, or drink, or cheese sandwiches causing crime, because so many people take drugs, drink, and eat cheese sandwiches.

    Prior to the First World War in the UK, you were free to drink what you liked when you liked, smoke, snort or inject whatever you liked, carry a pistol in your pocket on the way to the druggists, and so on. And crime was far less. It is hard to believe that any of the grand moral reform movements have had any positive social effect. The drugs war is a dismal failure, strict alcohol licensing is a dismal failure. But still we carry on with these failed policies.


  40. Dave
    December 9, 2010

    The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” Ayn Rand

    1. Bazman
      December 11, 2010

      It’s a good point. The problem with criminals is that they are criminals, a point not lost on the police and the judicial system. If you have a job, a car or some property then you are an easy target. Notice that failure to pay council tax is one of the few debts that you can be sent to jail for, or not taxing your car can result it in it being crushed. If I was caught fighting and being drunk in the street it would cost me dear, but for the average criminal little problem. Maybe a barrister could put this case better?

  41. Winston's Black Dog
    December 11, 2010

    I take it the student protesters whom Mr Cameron wishes to receive the “full force of the Law” will not be imprisoned as “Justice” Secretary Ken Clarke insists that prison doesn’t work.

    Or do different rules apply when Whitehall and Parliament Square ,rather than the local High Street and Square, suffer mayhem?

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