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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have experience of B2B s...

Citifocus Ltd: German Speaking Client Specialist

£Attractive Package: Citifocus Ltd: Prestigious asset management house seeks a...

Citifocus Ltd: Performance & Risk Oversight

£Negotiable: Citifocus Ltd: This is a varied role focusing on the firm's mutua...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of Scotland's leading train...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

David Cameron’s immigration speech: I broke my promise; this time will be different

John Rentoul
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game  

Manchester was ahead of the pack in honouring Alan Turing

Simon Kelner
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game