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Eagle Eye

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Ben Chu: If prison works, why hasn't it yielded better results?

Posted by Eagle Eye
  • Tuesday, 20 October 2009 at 02:35 pm
Do I understand Dominic Lawson's reasoning right in his Independent column today? He appears to argue that in Britain we have more prisoners per capita than other European countries because more crimes are committed here. And why is this? Because, according to Lawson, the British prison system doesn't jail enough of its criminals.

So, Lawson suggests, we should imprison still more criminals and then the crime rate would fall and we would, presumably over time, need to jail fewer people. It's an ingenious theory.

The flaw is this is precisely the policy that successive governments have been implementing for the past 15 years. The prison population in 1995 was 49,500. This January it stood at 82,100. As this Ministry of Justice bulletin makes clear, this increase is, in large part, due to "tougher" sentencing - precisely what Lawson seems to want.

The crime rate has fallen (although it is debateable to what extent this is due to increased incarceration rates). Yet the prison population is still heading upwards. It is projected by the Justice Department to be between 83,300 and 93,900 by 2015. So much for the Lawsonian virtuous circle of tougher penalties and smaller prison populations.

I'm with my colleague Amol Rajan. All the evidence available suggests that simply cramming ever more people into our jails is actually counterproductive.

Comments

yahew111 wrote:
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 at 12:41 am (UTC)
Lawsons premise was not that prison didn't work but that it hadn't been tried in the case of the thugs who hounded a woman to immolate herself and her disabled daughter, even though the police were informed of the vicious anti-social behaviour not once, not twice, but twenty times.

What killed her was upper middle class liberalism. Easy to support the powerful thugs when you dont have to deal with the problems yourself - a form of virulent class supremacism.
linchung wrote:
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 at 10:57 am (UTC)
Understand that: however, it was a failing on the Police Services, and a culture of not responding to community issues quickly and sensitively. Someone pulls a knife, it's quick response and the marksmen come out. Someone complains of feeling intimidated, it's way down the list.

But the source of crime is often in the early stages of community breakdown. Tackle that.
Finally...
linchung wrote:
Wednesday, 21 October 2009 at 10:51 am (UTC)
Someone has said the emperor has no clothes! Thank you for that.

Instilling fear in a population so as to incarcerate them by persuading them thousands of new offences will make them safer is one of the shabbiest, nastiest, most pointless exercises (apart from bailing banks with taxpayers' money to commit more avaricious atrocities on the economy) a government can do to its electorate. Especially when parliamentary privilege affords them immunity from prosecution themselves...

Who do these elected officials think we are? Of course, if you are in jail, you can't vote...