Letter: Home Secretary's crime proposals are short-sighted

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The Independent Online
Sir: As one who works with prisoners, I am dismayed by Michael Howard's speech to the Conservative Party conference. 'Prisons work,' he said. If by that he meant that the imprisonment of offenders deters a significant number of potential offenders, I believe him to be profoundly mistaken. His proposals to build more prisons, and to make the regime in prisons 'tougher', are wholly irrelevant to the issue of how to reduce crime.

Only a very small number of crimes are actually solved. If you are a criminal, the likelihood that you will be caught is quite small, and the prospect of a prison sentence is not a consideration.

Very many of those actually in prison are there because they are extremely inept criminals. Many of these are drug addicts or alcohol abusers. Simply putting them in prison has only the most marginal benefit to society. The cost of keeping such a person in prison varies from around pounds 350 to pounds 450 per week, and for the most part no effort is made to tackle the basic causes of their offending. Rehabilitation for such people is cheaper than keeping them in prison, but places available are limited.

Many would benefit from specialised treatment and counselling, which might result in their rehabilitation, but for the most part they are simply sent to prison, serve a sentence and then re-emerge to offend again and again.

This country already imprisons more people per head of the population than almost any other country in Western Europe, and yet our crime rate continues to give justified cause for alarm. Clearly Mr Howard, prisons do not work.

Yours etc,

BRIAN COUSINS

Abingdon, Oxfordshire

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