Leading article: Persistent offenders

Share

Across the country yesterday judges and magistrates received an urgent letter, jointly signed by the Home Secretary, the Attorney General and the Lord Chancellor. The three most influential figures in our criminal justice system are reminding them to incarcerate only the most dangerous and persistent offenders who come before them for sentencing.

It is clear what has prompted this letter. The number of inmates in England and Wales has reached 80,000, a figure above maximum capacity. This week, 480 prisoners are being held in police stations. Cells at the Old Bailey have been made available. Norwich jail is to reopen a wing previously declared "unfit" by inspectors. Recommissioning prison ships and military-style camps are talked about. In short, the system has no more room. Prisons are in crisis.

The Government's own cowardice and incompetence are to blame. For the best part of a decade, ministers have pursued a policy of mass incarceration, paying little attention to rehabilitation or community sentencing. The letter states: "We should not be squandering taxpayers' money to monitor non-dangerous and less serious offenders." This is exquisite hypocrisy. Successive Home Secretaries, dancing to the hysterical tune played by right-wing newspapers, have put pressure on judges and magistrates to jail offenders for longer. Now they are sending out the exact opposite message, while lecturing judges on the need to achieve value for money for taxpayers.

Of course, the thrust of the letter is correct. Far too many people are in jail who should not be there. Thousands of drug addicts and mentally ill prisoners would be far better dealt with in other ways. Nor is an over-strained prison system succeeding in rehabilitating those who should indeed be there. Some 60 per cent of prisoners are reconvicted within two years of release. This is hardly surprising considering that so much effort is being expended on merely finding room for inmates. There are scant resources left for reforming prisoners and preparing them for life on the outside. The Liberal Democrat prison policy announced this week, which would demand more community sentencing for those guilty of relatively minor offences, is the only realistic way forward of relieving the pressure on the system.

But the Prime Minister still refuses to face up to this. At Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, Mr Blair was citing "more prison places" and "tough measures" as his Government's achievements in law and order. Yet these are the very policies that have resulted in the present overcrowding débâcle. We have a Prime Minister who, in the face of all the evidence, still seems to believe the solution to the prisons crisis is to lock more people up.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas