July 14, 2010: Prison Does Not Work: Ken Clarke
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke made a key speech to judges at Mansion House last night. In what may be a refutation of the earlier Conservative assertion that "prison works" by the previous Conservative Home Secretary Michael Howard, he clearly asserts that there is no direct correlation between the growing prison population and a fall in crime, and emphasises that rehabilitation works.
CrimLinks publishes excerpts from the speech below.
"I’ve been here before as Chancellor. I am the one who did not object to wearing white tie. My Lord Mayor, I am especially pleased to be here as Lord Chancellor, an office I am excited and delighted to occupy.
"Of course I have experience of the criminal justice system from my time at the Bar, but it is more than a quarter of a century since I practised. My more recent contact with the controversies of politics and the law were when I served as Home Secretary for about fifteen months in John Major’s Government.
"So I expected a return to those controversies when I made my first major speech setting out plans for a reform of Criminal Sentencing policy - a speech which caused some small stir.
"My views received a considerable welcome from the majority of judges, lawyers, prison reformers and practitioners in the field of criminal justice.
"The media coverage was reasonably balanced, but of course there are those who remain concerned that the consequence of any change to the status quo is dangerous criminals being released onto our streets. I can assure you that this is not the case. Protection of the public remains uppermost in our approach to criminal justice.
"A sensible review of sentencing policy is much overdue. There is no disagreement between anybody that prison is the best punishment available for serious criminal offenders. I firmly believe that the prison service must be in the front line of services to protect the public against crime. But the sheer scale of the explosion in prison numbers and prison costs that has taken place in the last decade was never precisely planned by anyone
"We need an enlightened and an effective penal system that the public can both trust and afford to pay for. The prison service cannot join the National Health Service as exempt from the search for spending cuts. And the search for spending cuts must not reduce the protection of the public. Retribution can be combined with a greater emphasis on rehabilitation and reform to give a safe affordable system.
"In this area, as in so many others, spending less taxpayers’ money does not mean a reduction in public services.
"In recent months many people have looked to Canada as an example of how a Government should cut its public deficit and debt for the good of its economy. In the early 1990’s my friend Paul Martin, as Finance Minister, made spending cuts of around a fifth of the Canadian Government’s budget. I have read that they reduced the prison population by about 11%. They made more use of community sentences. Was the result a crime wave? Absolutely not. Crime fell. And one source I have seen says that even assaults and robberies fell by over 20%.
"Finland was a high prison sentencing country by Scandinavian standards until it made big cuts in the 1990’s. They reduced their rate of imprisonment in proportion to total population to about a third of the British level. Crime did not rise significantly.
"There is and never has been, in my opinion, any direct correlation between spiralling growth in the prison population and a fall in crime.
"Crime fell throughout most of the western world in the 1990’s. Crime fell in countries that had and still have far lower rates of imprisonment than ours.
"Crime has fallen in Britain throughout a period of both rising prison populations and throughout the same period of economic growth, with strong employment levels and rising living standards.
"No one can prove cause and effect. The crime rate fell. But was this the consequence of the policies of my successors as Home Secretary or, dare I gently hint, mine as Chancellor of the Exchequer at the beginning of a period of growth and strong employment? We will never know.