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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker