Tuesday, 13 September 2011

"Consulting opinion pollsters is surely one of the worst imaginable methods of devising a criminal justice policy,"

"Consulting opinion pollsters is surely one of the worst imaginable methods of devising a criminal justice policy"

I think this is probably one of the most sensible comments I've heard in relation to criminal justice policy, so imagine my surprise when it turns out that the person who said it is Peter Oborne, Chief Political Commentator for the Daily Telegraph.  This is written in his Foreword to a report by the criminal justice think-tank 'Make Justice Work' and has been analysed by Mark Easton, who as usual appears to be spot on.

The other key sentence I picked out from the Foreword is:

"If our key goal is to reduce the number of victims of crime then we really need to take seriously the lessons emerging from rehabilitation programmes like these"

The key problem in my view with the criminal justice system, is that many people see it as primarily a method of retribution - an opportunity to punish.  I say that yes there needs to be an element of "you have done wrong and as such you will be sentenced to..." but at the same time, for me, the key element should be minimising the possibility of other people becoming victims of crime.  In my view, without seeing any figures, it is perfectly intuitive that non custodial rehabilitative sentences are probably more likely to reduce re-offending rates whilst also being cheaper and doing some good within communities.  Just because a sentence hasn't sent someone to jail doesn't mean that it isn't also seen as a punishment, however it can be a punishment aimed at reforming their lives not just increasing access to a criminal network.

I can't exactly see anyone arguing that committing armed robbery, rape, murder etc should be given a non custodial sentence, however according to the prison reform trust, 59% of adults serving sentences of less than 12 months are reconvicted within one year of being released.  These are exactly the sort of people who should be sentenced to community sentences instead.  Looking through the report they cite various positive results and as such they are whole heartedly supporting Kenneth Clarke's agenda.  It is a shame therefore, that despite this funding has been cut from certain initiatives - such as The Intensive Alternative to Custody (IAC) in Manchester, which appears to have just come to the end of it's pilot.  Surely the sensible option in times of budget cuts is to expand these programmes instead of our overflowing prison system which costs a lot more.

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