Leading article: Crime and the need for joined-up punishment

Share

Among New Labour's most enduring catchphrases was Tony Blair's neatly balanced pledge to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. It offered reassurance to those fearful that a Labour government would be soft on offenders, while promising those of a more old Labour persuasion that social deprivation would also be tackled.

More than eight years on, however, any mention of "tough on crime..." is greeted as often as not with cynicism. While Britain has a record number of people locked up, and proportionally more people in prison than most other countries in Europe, few inroads have been made into rates of recidivism. As the Home Secretary admitted yesterday, more than half of all crime is committed by people who have been through the criminal justice system before.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that, while prison cuts crime by keeping criminals off the streets, it does little to discourage them from committing further offences when they are released. Recent high-profile cases, such as the murder of the City banker, John Monckton, by a multiple offender supposedly under supervision, only undermined public confidence in the criminal justice system even further.

This is the context in which Charles Clarke yesterday presented his "Five Year Strategy for Protecting the Public and Reducing Re-offending" - a title which is as indicative of the Government's political concern about public fear of crime as about its desire to cut rates of re-offending. It is not hard to appreciate, though, that a significant cut in the rate of re-offending could be one of the most effective ways of reducing crime overall.

The problem, as always, is how to do this. And this strategy contains few startlingly original ideas. The proposal that each prisoner should have a "named offender manager" with overall responsibility for him (or her) is as obvious as it is sensible. The call for more community prisons to enable prisoners to retain their family ties represents another welcome return to localism (after Patricia Hewitt's support for cottage hospitals).

Other recommendations presuppose the co-operation of other agencies. The number of mentally ill people in prison is a national disgrace that must also be addressed by the health authorities. Too many people are held for too long on remand: measures are needed to speed up court procedures. For drug addicts, treatment or rehabilitation must be the priority. Prison should be reserved for serious criminals; it should not be a repository of last resort for the helpless and forgotten.

In this respect, the Home Secretary's desire to see more offenders serve their sentences in the community is commendable - though we dispute the need for T-shirts that would identify offenders while they work. The wider use of programmes devised by charities and specialist voluntary organisations for rehabilitation, education and training is also to be welcomed, as is the emphasis on co-operation with employers' organisations, housing agencies and local authorities to ease the transition after release. We would have liked, though, to see greater emphasis on restorative justice schemes that encourage offenders to make good, so far as possible, some of the damage they have caused.

The overriding difficulty with all the proposals, however, is not that they require money: to the extent that they work, they will pay for themselves. It is that they require co-ordination between different authorities and organisations - and co-ordination, as we know, can be even more elusive than Treasury funding. Mr Clarke will need to apply all his personal determination and all his political clout if this five-year strategy is to bring the improvements it promises.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Sussex teenager killed fighting in Syria

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Actor Zac Efron  

Keep your shirt on Zac – we'd all be better for it

Howard Jacobson
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit