Sir: Contrary to Polly Toynbee's claim, Home Office Research Finding No 12 states, "There was no firm evidence that community penalties outperformed custody or vice versa in preventing re-offending". In fact, probation orders with a probation centre requirement have a reconviction rate 12 per cent higher than offenders discharged from prison.
It is naive of Ms Toynbee to make the simplistic comparison of the cost of keeping an offender in prison at pounds l,900 a month and a probation order at pounds 105. Reconviction rates of those on probation are as high as 62 per cent; with very low detection rates, the re-offending rate will be much higher. Crime costs the UK over pounds 20bn a year. Two teenage criminals were estimated to have cost the taxpayer pounds lm during the course of a year. For persistent offenders, the cost of imprisonment is a bargain.
During the 1980s, the prison population fell, but at the same time the crime rate rocketed. The recent increase in the use of custodial sentences has resulted in a fall in the crime rate. Draconian sentencing policies have stabilised property crime for a decade in the United States.
A British version of "three strikes and you're out" should be seriously considered. The cost of crime in emotional, physical and material terms is incalculable. The protection of society must take precedence over the welfare of offenders, particularly persistent ones.
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