Friday, February 08, 2013

Prison is an expensive way of not addressing the problem of crime in society

Question Time last night discussed the matter of Chris Huhne being sent to prison for making his ex-wife take his speeding points.

I tweet: Speeding is bad, perverting justice is bad, being a Minister in this cr*p Government is bad. Huhne still doesn't deserve jail... Jail is for murderers, rapists, violence. I wouldn't even send a banker to jail....Prison for non violent offences is a big stupid counter effective waste of money.

A long Twitter conversation follows, with Toni Wood, a criminology PhD student, Sarah McAlpineBethmedia, @AndyBarton10 , @hampshireheart and others. There is agreement that the prison system is not fit for purpose.

The UK has a prison population of around 84,000, 80K male and 4K female.
That puts us at 92nd out of 221 countries with a rate of 154 per 100,000 population in the clink.
The USofA ("land of the free" - Ha!) is worst, with 730 out of 100k.
The UK has the second highest incarceration rate in Western Europe.
Even this is not enough for the brain-dead idiots who rule us. 
Both Labour and Tories plan to build more prisons as they expect the prison population to rise to  96,000, so they are going to build new "Titan" prisons at a cost of £1.2billion. 

The UK prison service costs around £3.1billion a year, which is only 0.36% of the total tax take, but even so, £3.1 billion is a lot of money for something that does not work:
  • Approximately one-half of adult prisoners reoffend within one year of release
  • Approximately three-quarters of juvenile prisoners reoffend within one year of release

Each individual prisoner costs about £39,000 a year. That's a perfectly good council house thrown away every year in wrecking someone's life prospects.

Coming back for Huhne, the true role of prison should be to protect society from murderers, rapists, violent robbers,  individuals who will not co-operate with non-prison forms of justice and a few other categories that commentors will no doubt come up with.

It is not just me saying this : Prison Reform Trust : "Prison should be reserved for those whose offending is so serious that they cannot serve their sentence in the community".

Prison is not for people like Chris Huhne who is a speeder, a fraud and a cheat, but not a physical threat to society.

Huhne should be fined, (and fines should be pro-rata, in terms of days or weeks of average earnings) and should be made to do some appropriate work. He should be banned from holding public office.

I wouldn't even put a cheating banker in prison. Again they should pay hefty fines, and set to work sifting through boring piles of company accounts looking for evidence of other frauds.

This is just one way of keeping people out of prison. Another way would be to decriminalise soft drugs like cannabis, and medicalise the treatment of addictive and destructive drugs like heroin and crack. One calculation a few years ago found that every £1 spent on treating addicts saves £7 in crime, police, court and prison costs. Specifically, heroin should be prescribed for heroin addicts. It stops them doing burglaries.

Around 10,000 of the prison population (about 12%) are for drug specific offences, and many more for robbing to get money to feed their habit.

10% of the prison population are veterans from the armed forces. The obvious answer here is to give servicemen and women a rehab course before they leave, and support in their first few months in civvie life. They have been trained to be dangerous - it is the responsibility of the forces to retrain them to be safe on leaving the service.

The data on prison absurdities can be piled up: how homeless people commit offences on cold nights to get into a warm cell; how women prescribed benzodiazepines by their GPs commit offences because their memory blanks out, how drugs are available in prison, how criminals can run their operations from inside prison, how economic inequality contributes to high prison populations , violent crime and so on and so forth.

The bottom line is that prison is an expensive way of not addressing the problem of crime in society. As even the senior Tory Kenneth Clarke has said.

So the question is, why do we not reform the prison system?
Answer: Morality.
It is the moralists in the Church, the Conservative Party, and especially in the media, the Daily Mail and Daily Express editors, who are driving this wasteful travesty of a criminal justice system.

Recall that in our own lifetime, both suicide and gayness were all offences punishable by prison.
(That was attempted suicides obviously, because even the editor of the Daily Mail is not stupid enough to call for a dead body to be banged up).

William Blake said
"The Moral Christian is the cause
of the unbeliever, and his laws".

There are plenty of alternatives to prison: Restorative Justice, Community payback, and fines.
The Howard League for Prison Reform is to bring out an important reform paper in April.
The Green Party's policy on Crime and Justice is here.

If one good thing comes out of the imprisonment of Chris Huhne, it will be a thorough revision and reform of the crime and justice system in the UK.


Wake Up said...

I agree to some extent. I do think Huhne should go to jail though. Fining someone like him is meaningless and he not only bullied his wife, he tried to use his power to subvert justice. People like him are part of the problem with our "representative democracy"

Gerson Machado said...

Why not try some meditation in the jail system and the problem cities around the country?
http://www.huffingto npo m/jeanne-ball/a-thanksgiving-blessing-f_b_788053.html
What is meditation Laurence Freeman

DocRichard said...

Wake Up - I agree with you, too, to some extent. I have little sympathy for Huhne because of his lying, though his initial crime (shifting pints) is, I understand, fairly common.

DocRichard said...

Thanks for this. I agree, there is a huge amount to be gained by teaching meditation, and in many other ways of using the controlled situation of prison to educate, train and help prisoners. Diet too is important. But the sheer numbers and overcrowding makes these humane measures very difficult - which brings us back to the core of the post, to reduce prison numbers by vastly increasing community orders for those who do not pose a direct physical threat to society.