To ensure the rehabilitation of prisoners, Rahab needs the same thing as any other minister. A little help from Downing Street.


Dominic Raab closed a miniseries on prices on ConservativeHome a week ago today. A question he asked himself from the beginning was: does the prison work?

As often happens, the answer is: it depends. Does locking up criminals improve public safety? Yes, in the sense that the only crimes they can commit after being sentenced to prison happen behind bars.

Is prison a deterrent? Peter Cuthbertson had an amazing statistic in his studio for Civitas four years ago: a the person sent to prison is significantly more likely to have at least 46 previous convictions o precautions (10 percent) rather than not having any. If the test discourages people who have already committed crimes, the prison does not work.

Is the prison rehabilitated? The answer follows from the one on deterrence. “Just under 50% of current prisoners will be sentenced again within 12 months of release,” wrote Peter Stanford of the Longford Trust. how our series opened. Again, the answer is No. Why?

The next piece of this site that I want to mention was published five years ago. “Just under a quarter were taken into care as a child, he wrote Edward Boyd of the Center for Social Justice. “Two out of five inmates have committed crimes to obtain money to buy drugs; more than two thirds were unemployed before prison; the majority are of the expected literacy age for an 11-year-old; the majority have debts. “

The thrust of all those figures is unlikely to have changed, for all intents and purposes of Covid in prisons and among criminals. What should be done? Perhaps I am guilty of a failure of the imagination, but I want to narrow down the answers and exclude those that are least likely to be politically possible.

These include: giving prisoners shorter prison sentences, legalizing or decriminalizing illegal drugs, and getting more prisoners out sooner (up to a point). It may be worth taking a moment to explain why ministers from all parties have opposed these options and will likely continue to do so.

First, shorter sentences. England, Wales and Scotland (but not Northern Ireland) incarcerate more people than any other Western European country, unless you count the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as some definitions do. Like our columnist David Gauke underlined when the Minister of Justice, “the prison sentences, in general, have lengthened”.

As he said, part of the explanation is that “our society and our government rightly recognize and respond to the rise in certain types of crime.” However, Cuthbertson’s figures did not support the idea that a significant percentage of newbies were sent to prison: “70 percent of prison sentences are imposed on those who have received at least seven previous sentences “.

So, get more people out of jail first. Michael Gove tried out with multiple early releases on a temporary license, and Robert Buckland took similar measures in response to the covid. But ministers have limited room for maneuver: remember the uproar over the Labor termination of custody regime. “Prisoners released early would have committed 1,512 offenses, the Daily mail reported In 2010.

If shorter sentences are issued, at least for violent crimes, and there are limits to early release, one option that remains is the declassification of one of the grounds for prison sentences and the legalization or decriminalization of illegal drugs. Long story short, I expect governments and voters to honor the unwritten pact that was made secretly: the ban will continue on paper, albeit increasingly not in practice.

So, however successfully the police, and more generally civil society, are able to deter crime, we inevitably come to the surprising conclusion drawn by Raab on our website: “Successful rehabilitation is the only sustainable way to reduce crime “. I can’t remember a senior politician who said this so clearly before. But since the secretary of justice is considered a right-wing man, no one seems to have noticed.

The prospect of Rahab’s policy is sensitive enough: getting offenders to defeat addiction, giving offenders the skills they need to go straight, cut back and, perhaps with a nod to a slightly earlier release. “Expanding opportunities for licensed prisoners and offenders to work.”

What do you need to deliver it? My answer is simple, but not easy. And it is the same as any other minister who wants to push through the reforms. It requires the full support of the Prime Minister, which in this case he is unlikely to get – and, no, not because Boris Johnson does not or may not focus on anything for a long time (a claim that is exaggerated, but even that is a other story).

As Gove once said, Downing Street operates as the eye of Sauron in the … Lord of the Rings Film: Can’t rotate to see everything at once. He has to prioritize – and his priorities include, more often than not, not promoting his own agenda but responding to someone else’s. The Owen Paterson saga and everything that has followed since is a timely example.

Which brings us to the main point. Prisoners are not a priority: not for this government; not for any government. And I’m not one for ministers because I’m not one for voters. Most voters will have studied in schools, not at home. As they get older, they are more and more likely to use the NHS or social services. They are less likely to have to deal one-on-one with a police officer.

But even so, they are certainly more likely to do so than visit a prison. When the critical moment comes, the prisoners are out of sight and out of mind for a large portion of the public. We don’t lock the door and throw away the key. We close it and forget we did it. Meanwhile, charities like Tempus Novo, which also contributed to our series, try to help solve the mess.

A number ten who gave prisoners more priority would use his overbearing pulpit to help reduce recidivism. That wouldn’t just mean more expenses (although some should be). For example, a more prison-focused Downing Street would bring departments out of their silos to help released inmates find work and support themselves.

This would mean banging our heads together in the new Leveling Up department, to identify more accommodations; in Work & Pensions, which deals with work schedules; in leveling up, as local councils are involved, or should be; in education, due to the large number of inmates unable to read or write.

Elsewhere, new spending must marry prison assets and prison education: a former minister insists that “we must replace the Victorian prisons that cost a fortune to maintain with fewer prisons – some of which could be built, managed and operated. Furthermore, the prison population is aging: “I see tracks near bathrooms and mobility scooters,” said another former minister.

Along with a multi-year plan for capital spending it would come the implementation of the Coates review on prison education. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister would deliver a grand political speech, host Prison Officer of the Year awards on Downing Street, visit prisons more regularly.

It can be said that prison policy is ultimately a question of how much we care about the waste of human capital – of lives. This is the truth but not the whole truth.

Because prison policy is also a matter of personal interest, or social interest, if you like. The estimated total economic and social cost of recidivism is around £ 18 billion. Think about the most productive uses for which that money could be put.


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