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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living