David Blackburn

Bad news for Clarke

Bad news for Clarke
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Professor Ken Pease, the renowned criminologist, has written a report for the think-tank Civitas which rubbishes Ken Clarke’s plan to reduce prison numbers by extending community sentencing.

Pease is of the Howard school: prison works. The key is that community sentences do not reduce reoffending. Pease estimates that 13,892 convicted offences could have been prevented by incarcerating prisoners for one extra month. The crimes for which offenders are convicted are a fraction of what they author. Pease quotes one estimate that there are 130 burglaries per conviction. Money is not saved by reducing incarceration because the costs associated with the victims (police time, NHS treatment, increased insurance premiums) increase. Using Home Office statistics, Pease finds that theft (on average) costs the taxpayer alone £1,000 per instance and crime-related injuries weighs in at £21,000. The total cost is £10bn a year. On the basis of that, Pease avers that the cost of sustained imprisonment would be the same as the cost of crime prevented; therefore, it would be cheaper to increase sentencing for serial re-offenders. In other words, prison works.

The entire penal reform debate can be distilled into the issue of re-offending. Being tough on the causes of crime requires being tough on conditions in prisons. In truth, prison does not work as well as it might. There, petty goons are turned into habitual criminals and society pays a heavy price for that judging by Ken Pease’s estimates. The prison population rose by 27 percent since Michael Howard’s prison drive; spending on remedial programmes did not match that increase. Upshot? Reoffending rates increased. Scotland has nearly a 50 percent reoffending rate according to one study. Remedial programmes in prison – education, resettlement work and mental health support – will lessen the price victims and the taxpayer pay for reoffending. By all means lock-up criminals, but give them the tools to reform.