June 30, 2010: A New Outlook On Penal Reform?
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke set out his policy for prisons, probation and the wider criminal justice system in his first major speech as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. Commenting on his view that fewer people should be sent to prison for short periods Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary of Napo, the Probation union, said:
“Last year 55,000 people were sentenced to jail for six months or less. The reoffending rate was 74%. If they were sentenced to short community sentences as an alternative it would be significantly cheaper and the reoffending rates fall to 34%. However the minister is going to cut probation budgets by 25%, which means his strategy is untenable and if the cut to probation goes ahead the prison population would actually increase by 8,000 -10,000 on a daily basis, which would mean the government would need to build six new jails.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform has welcomed the views of Ken Clarke as he launches a radical programme of penal reform.
Howard League Director Frances Crook commented:
“We are greatly encouraged by the mature and frank nature of Ken Clarke’s comments today. Compared to the mindless rhetoric of successive Home and Justice Secretaries, he is injecting some much needed common sense into this sensitive area of public policy.
“The prison population has doubled since Ken Clarke was Home Secretary in the early 1990s and its restless expansion has shown no signs of stopping. This simply isn’t affordable. Throwing more and more people in prison for minor offences makes no economic sense, given that reoffending rates for those serving short prison sentences are double that of those on community orders which cost a tenth of the price and tackle the underlying causes of crime.
“We welcome the Justice Secretary’s interesting proposals on introducing payment by results so that the private and voluntary sectors can work alongside probation in the community to reduce reoffending. Radical change, including the closing down of prisons, will be required to fund reforms if the Ministry of Justice budget is at the same time to be reduced. We will be working with the government to pilot innovative new ways of investing in the community.
“The coalition government can take heart from the experience of Canada in the 1990s, where 20 per cent cuts to public spending forced the government to reduce the prison population by 11 per cent. At the same time, crime fell in Canada over the decade by as much as 23 per cent for assault and robbery to 43 per cent for murder.
“Finally, the Howard League has long been campaigning for the introduction of real work in prison for those on long sentences. We are delighted that Ken Clarke has committed the coalition government to this radical reform to ensure that those who do remain in prison are given purposeful work and can earn money which can go to a victims fund and to their families on the outside.”
The Howard League for Penal Reform launched the Take Action 2010 campaign before the election. The Take Action manifesto included calls for investment in the community, the end of short prison terms and for real work in prison.