Prisons policy: victims, recidivism and home leave

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The Independent Online
From Mr Michael Howard, MP

Sir: The most interesting thing about Polly Toynbee's long article about crime and punishment ("Listen, minister; prison doesn't work", 31 May) is that she made no mention of victims. The success of prison as a punishment cannot be measured solely by how it compares with community sentences in terms of reconviction rates of offenders.

But the latest figures suggest that recidivism for those who are subject to a community sentence (55 per cent) is actually marginally higher than for those sentenced to imprisonment (54 per cent). It must also be remembered that it is the more serious offenders who are sentenced to prison.

Research suggests that a burglar in prison for 12 months rather than serving a community sentence may be prevented from committing between three and 13 other offences.

Police officers all over the country tell me that a disproportionately large number of offences are committed by a few persistent offenders. When these offenders are not at liberty, the crime rate in their areas tends to drop, sometimes dramatically. If the courts decide that such criminals should be deprived of their liberty, their victims, actual and potential, are likely to rejoice. And it may not be entirely fortuitous that the recent increase in the number of criminals imprisoned has coincided with the biggest fall in recorded crime in 40 years.

Yours faithfully,

MICHAEL HOWARD

Home Secretary

Home Office

London, SW1

1 June

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