Letter: Howard's prisons don't work

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Sir: Polly Toynbee is right to argue that the Home Secretary's ironically named "prison works" policy ignores the evidence of what works best in reducing offending ("Howard's prison time-bomb", 28 August).

There has been widespread and proper concern about the recent unprepared release of some 500 prisoners. But far less attention has been paid to the continuing threat to public safety of unnecessary reoffending produced by an increasingly punitive penal policy.

An extensive body of research now shows that certain types of work with offenders can reduce recidivism by 20 to 50 per cent more than other approaches. These include highly focused programmes which change offending behaviour and attitudes, teach offenders to restrain aggressive and impulsive behaviour, tackle alcohol and drug problems and provide skills training and employment. Effective programmes have been developed for different groups including those convicted of aggressive offences, stealing, autocrime, sexual offences, drink-driving and firesetting. These methods produce better results in the community than in custody; but, when applied in prison, they can also significantly cut reoffending on release.

The Government's policy of encouraging a greatly increased use of imprisonment flies in the face of these findings. A rational strategy to reduce crime would involve extending the most effective forms of community supervision to many of the less serious offenders who are now imprisoned. The resulting smaller prison population would relieve tension in jails and enable the Prison Service to provide effective programmes for a higher proportion of those in custody.



Penal Affairs Consortium

London SW9