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Friday, May 21, 2010

Coalition can break from failed justice policy

Coalition can break from failed justice policy

Abandoning the obsessive concentration on increasing prison capacity will allow the government to restructure justice system

What strikes you most about the new justice policy outlined in the coalition programme for government is the absence of rhetoric. The new watchwords are moderation, common sense and effectiveness. As an example: everyone knows that drugs and drink fuel crime and antisocial behaviour – so let's deal with addictions and binge-drinking in a way that reduces harm and cuts costs. The coalition government appears to be taking the opportunity to break with the failed legacy of vacuous prison-building and instead concentrate on what works in justice policy.

When the new justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, was last in charge of prisons and penal policy, as home secretary, the average prison population in England and Wales (1992–1993) was 44,628. That figure now stands at over 85,000 – a number Clarke described after his appointment as "extraordinarily high". The political arms race over the criminal justice policy indulged in by successive Conservative and Labour administrations over the past two decades has seen the UK prison population grow from average to the highest in western Europe. As outlined in the Prison Reform Trust briefing launched this week, the social and economic costs of our addiction to custody have been immense.

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