Site Meter

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Prison is a £2.2 billion failure, says Ken Clarke

Prison is a £2.2 billion failure, says Ken Clarke

Richard Ford, Francis Elliott
Updated 54 minutes ago

Ken Clarke, pictured at Downing Street after being appointed Justice Secretary. Akira Suemori/AP

Kenneth Clarke will set himself on a collision course with traditional Conservatives today by raising the prospect of thousands fewer criminals being sent to jail.

In his first major speech since returning to government, the Justice Secretary will say that short-term sentences are ineffectual warehousing at best and often turn petty crooks into serious offenders.

“Many a man has gone into prison without a drug problem and come out drug-dependent,” Mr Clarke will say at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies in King’s College London. His speech will be a devastating criticism of the “prison works” policy first proclaimed by Michael Howard, then the Home Secretary, in 1993. The speech has caused nervousness in No 10, which is concerned that it marks a dramatic shift in recent Tory party policy on law and order. David Cameron was special adviser to Mr Howard when he first advocated the policy.

The Ministry of Justice is seeking to find huge savings in its £9.6 billion annual budget. Mr Clarke will argue that Britain cannot afford to build more jails and should use the economic crisis to reform the criminal justice system.

He attacks the failings of penal policy over the past two decades, saying that locking up more and more offenders has not made the public feel any safer. “The consequence is that more and more offenders have been warehoused in outdated facilities, and we spend vast amounts of public money on prisons.” Mr Clarke will say there is no conclusive proof that im- prisoning more and more people has led to falls in some crimes.

In a scathing passage about the failure of prison to prevent criminals reoffending, he says: “Just banging up more and more people for longer without actively seeking to change them is what you would expect of Victorian England.”

The Justice Secretary also says he is surprised that the number of people in jail in England and Wales has doubled to more than 85,000 since he was Home Secretary in the early 1990s. “This is quite an astonishing number, which I would have dismissed as impossible if it had been put to me as a forecast in 1992,” he says.

He highlights that it now costs on average more to keep a criminal in jail for a year than to send a boy to Eton, yet reoffending rates by former prisoners remain stubbornly high.

“The taxpayer is providing keep and accommodation — albeit in grossly overcrowded conditions — at expensive hotel prices for 85,000 prisoners,” he says.

Prison, he argues, is necessary for many offenders, particularly “nasty people committing nasty offences”. But for others, imprisonment is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“Too often prison has proved a costly and ineffectual approach that fails to turn criminals into law-abiding citizens,” Mr Clarke will say. “In our worst prisons, it produces tougher criminals.”

Signalling that he wants the courts to hand out fewer short-term sentences, Mr Clarke says that prison terms of under 12 months are ineffective. “It is virtually impossible to do anything productive with offenders on short sentences. And many of them end up losing the jobs, their homes and their families during their short time inside.”

Mr Clarke and his new team do not want the courts to hand out any sentences of less than three months.

The Ministry of Justice is carrying out a review of sentencing intended to at least stabilise the prison population — and to reduce it over the longer term.

Mr Clarke will say that the economic crisis presents an opportunity to reform the criminal justice system, with charities and the private sector involved in trying to stop reoffending by those serving under 12 months. They would be paid by results, he will say.

He is under huge pressure to make savings from the £2.2 billion-a-year prisons budget and to curb the costs of Western Europe’s biggest jail building programme, intended to increase prison spaces to 96,000 by 2014.

Mr Clarke will identify legal aid as a target for savings, pointing out that England and Wales spend more than ten times as much as France on subsidising lawyers’ fees.

The prison population grew by 32,500, or 66 per cent, between 1995 and 2009. The imprisonment rate in England and Wales of 154 per 100,000 population compares with 96 in France and 88 in Germany. Forty-nine per cent of adults are reconvicted within a year of their release.

No comments: