Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke risked the ire of some of his own party's backbenchers today by claiming that sending more people to prison for longer sentences in order to cut re-offending “does not work”.
Speaking during a Commons debate on the transparency and consistency of sentencing, Mr Clarke said that in his "personal opinion" the evidence refuted such an argument.
Mr Clarke said re-offending was the "biggest weakness of our system", stating: "The system punishes first of all, but it would serve the public better if it also led to the reform of more offenders and we got down to re-offending rates at a more respectable level."
Stressing the need for a "more intelligent use of the prisons estate", he said: "Some people have held the belief, which is quite understandable, for years, that in order to cut re-offending you've got to deter people by sending more and more people to prison for longer and longer sentences.
"It is my personal opinion that the evidence completely refutes that - that does not work, particularly if it makes the prisons overcrowded, unresponsive places where they toughen up and meet some rougher friends and then are released to fend for themselves in the outside world."
Conservative Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) had earlier raised the point that "at the moment 49% of all prisoners go on to re-offend within a year" and argued that public lack of confidence in the system stemmed from a desire to see an "effective deterrent".
She said: "I think that the lack of confidence within the public is not just due to a thirst for punishment beyond reason.
"There is also the fact that re-offending rates are high and the point about sentencing is you want to see that it is effective, and it is an effective deterrent against re-offending."