Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Re-offending - are much harsher non-custodial sentences instead of prison the answer?

The following is a speech I gave at the full East Riding of Yorkshire Council meeting today:

Those members of the Council's Safer and Stronger Communities Overview and Scrutiny committee and others know how frustrating the issue of re-offending is and how locally it is costing the East Riding in excess of £23 million per year…. Clearly short term prison sentencing is not working with some 60% of those serving less then 12 months going on to re-offend.

Since the last meeting meeting of the committee I decided to tackle recommendation (b) on page 95 head on (that representation be made to the Government on the need for stronger leadership and direction on ways to handle short term offenders who have alcohol or drug related problems so that they could be fully absorbed into the rehabilitation process) and took the opportunity to raise this directly with the Justice Minister, the Rt. Hon. Ken Clarke MP in a written question prior to his speech last week in which I asked:

"Prison sentences fall into two distinct categories - less than 12 months and over.

The evidence shows that short-term prisoners go on to commit the majority of re-offending. Why?

A prisoner serving over 12 months will benefit from rehabilitation programmes in prison, once released will be on licence and under supervision by the probation service.

With short sentences of less than 12 months, the prison service has neither the time nor the opportunity to rehabilitate the prisoner, they are mollycoddled during their stay, and released without supervision or support.... an offender can leave the prison gates with £40 in their pocket and nothing else… no one to meet them, no job, no accommodation and still maintaining drink and drug habits – is it any wonder they go on to re-offend?

Do we need to look seriously at short-term sentencing and whether this is the most effective way of tackling re-offending?"

It was great that Ken Clarke covered the subject of re-offending in much detail as part of the speech - obviously this was nothing to do with my question - but it’s re-assuring to see that he's looking to tackle head on the problem of re-offending which costs the East Riding of Yorkshire so much money.

To quote the Minister he said "Prison needs to do more than keep criminals off the streets. It must try to prevent them from committing more crime against more victims when they come out.

The biggest failure of the present system is re-offending. Nearly half the people in prison come straight back out and commit another crime in less than twelve months. Absurd. Under New Labour, we had an underclass of people in our broken society who walked out of jail and straight back into crime, again and again.

Fifty three thousand criminals were jailed for six months or less in 2008. Nearly two thirds of them committed another crime within the next year and were sent straight back to prison again. And that was only the ones who were caught and convicted again. Thousands of further crimes against new victims. Quite absurd."

Three key points of the new Government policy are

  • The introduction of a 'rehabilitation revolution' that will pay independent providers to reduce re-offending paid for by the savings this new approach will generate within the criminal justice system.
  • The conducting of a full review of sentencing policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting re-offending.
  • Ensuring that sentencing for drug use helps offenders come off drugs.
I get the feeling someone is at last listening… In the near future I look forward to seeing much harsher non-custodial sentences that really work, less people sent to prison, and I look forward to seeing significant improvements in re-offending rates when the scrutiny committee next looks at the issue.

Remember ladies and gentlemen Prison works - but not for all!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Despite the current trendy thinking I think most people consider offenders should be confined for the full term laid down by the judge or magistrate not automatic halving of the sentence "for good behaviour". Bad behaviour should result in an increased term.
The use of three strikes and you are out should be adopted in line with America and prison should be an unpleasant place not better than some have on the outside