Jonathan Aitken: The way we treat prisoners creates a conveyor belt of crime

A system based on punishment rather than rehabilitation won't work

Share
Related Topics

As a former prisoner I recognise better than most that people in prison, and I include myself, are there because they deserve to be locked up. Some need to be there for the safety of society and some need to be there to be punished – and the loss of their liberty is a fair punishment for a lot of people.

But most offenders inside Britain's prisons are low on the scale of criminality and if we are interested in reducing offending rates and getting people into law-abiding lifestyles, which currently we could hardly be doing a worse job of, then we need to consider reform.

We have a system in which two thirds of prisoners are re-offending within two years. When you think that this is a prison system upon which we spend nearly £20bn a year, it's a very poor return. Because our system is based on punishment rather than rehabilitation, we are simply creating a permanent conveyor belt of crime and offending, which in turn leads to prison overcrowding.

People released from prison end up back there because they are not helped to integrate back into society. The best way to do that is for them to get a job, but our current legislation only allows for criminal records to be expunged after at least 10 years.

It makes it impossible for former prisoners to get jobs because if they are given an interview they are forced to admit that they have a criminal record. No one will then employ them, and they are dragged back into a life of crime.

No one is suggesting that people who have committed sex offences or have committed serious or violent crimes such as murder or rape should not have to disclose their criminal past. But depending on things such as age and seriousness of offence, this rule could be relaxed.

I think that in the case of a young prisoner who has committed a minor offence the time period for expunging a criminal record could be as little as two years. This would mean that they could make a fresh start when they have served their time and would be able to apply for jobs without having to mention the fact that they have a criminal record. It is a similar system to the Second Chance Act brought in in the United States last year under the sponsorship of Joe Biden. I see no reason why it can't work here.

I have not gone soft on crime just because I have been in prison, but I am the first to admit that if I were to look up some of the speeches I used to make as a right-of-centre Tory backbencher back in the 1970s, I know they would make me blush. I used to call for tougher sentences and say things like, "Life should mean life". I do not think I ever went as far as to say, "Lock them up and throw away the key", but I was from that school of thought.

With hindsight, I now realise that this is an unintelligent way to think if you are at all interested in reducing offending rates and rehabilitating people after they have paid their debt to society.

In Holloway Prison in north London it costs £52,000 a year to house women inmates, the majority of whom are not dangerous prisoners and could easily be kept in community homes. At £300 a week as opposed to £1,000, not only would this be cheaper, but it would go a long way to enabling these women to re-join society. They would be closer to their families and would have the opportunity to look for and apply for jobs. That would be a much better system.

I do not want to make excuses for my crime. I have always accepted that what I did was wrong and that I deserved to be sent to prison for it. I have never complained about my prison sentence. But when I came out I had plenty of problems. I did not have a bank account and I was not allowed a credit card for a very long time. It was because, in the eyes of the bank, I was a criminal.

It was not until I could prove that I was committed to earning an honest living that they gave allowed me a credit card. I had a difficult re-entry period during which I found it very difficult to get started again and I fully concede that I would have found it a lot easier than most people.

The sad fact is that the deficiencies in our system are making it difficult for prisoners to reintegrate into society and instead they are leading people back to a life of crime. This will continue to be the case unless we look at reform. We need to move away from retribution and towards rehabilitation.



Jonathan Aitken is a former Conservative MP who was imprisoned for perjury. His report, 'Locked Up Potential', for the Centre for Social Justice, is published today. He was speaking to Mark Hughes

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ventilation Cleaning Operative

£15600 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the battle of the election videos, and a robot sarcasm detector

John Rentoul
 

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping child abuse taking place right now

Mary Dejevsky
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower