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News Archives: Index

October 7, 2010: Probation Set For Industrial Action

October 5, 2010: Turning Prisoners Into Taxpayers

October 4, 2010: Murder Changes Now In Force

September 20, 2010: Probation Programmes Face Cuts

August 24, 2010: Victorian Poor Law Records Online

August 10, 2010: Justice Job Cuts

July 28, 2010: Prison Violence Growing

July 22, 2010: Police Numbers: Latest Figures

July 22, 2010: New Jurisdiction Rules

July 16, 2010: CCJS On Prison And Probation Spending Under Labour

July 15, 2010: Latest Statistics On Violent And Sexual Crime

July 15, 2010: Latest National Crime Figures

July 15, 2010: New Chief Prisons Inspector

July 14, 2010: Hard Times Ahead For Prisons: Anne Owers

July 14, 2010: Prison Does Not Work: Ken Clarke

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform: Sentencing and Rehabilitation

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform Priorities

July 12, 2010: What Price Public Protection, Asks Probation Chief Inspector

July 12, 2010: NOMS has failed, says Napo

July 10, 2010: IPCC To Investigate Death of Raoul Moat

July 9, 2010: Women In Prison: New Report

July 9, 2009: Unjust Deserts: Imprisonment for Public Protection

July 8, 2010: Police Search Powers Change

July 7, 2010: Make 'Legal High' Illegal, Says ACMD

July 2, 2010: Failing Children In Prison

July 2, 2010: Police Buried Under a Blizzard of Guidance: HMIC

July 1, 2010: Freedom To Change The Law?

June 30, 2010: A New Outlook On Penal Reform?

June 30, 2010: Revolving Door Of Offending Must Stop, Says Clarke

June 30, 2010: Ken Clarke: Speech on Criminal Justice Reform

June 29, 2010: No More Police Targets

June 26, 2010: Family Intervention Projects Questioned

June 25, 2010: Cutting Criminal Justice

June 24, 2010: Napo on Sex Offenders Report

June 23, 2010: Closing Courts: The Cuts Begin

June 23, 2010: Strategy To Tackle Gangs

June 15, 2010: Courts and Mentally Disordered Offenders

June 8, 2010: Working With Muslims in Prison

June 1, 2010: Your Chance To Nominate a QC

October 29, 2009: Key Issues In Criminal Justice

Jack Straw MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, has delivered the 'Issues in Criminal Justice Lecture' at the University of Birmingham. The lecture encapsulates contemporary government thinking about key criminal justices issues. Crimlinks prints the full lecture below.

"I am grateful to Professor Shute for the invitation to speak to you this afternoon. I wanted to take this opportunity to give you my perspective on the way in which sentencing has developed over the last 12 years and to explore our philosophy and how it helps to deliver a criminal justice service which is more responsive to the people it serves."

"As a minister, I am used to being told what I should be doing and – more frequently – that what I am doing is wrong. On occasion I even come across scholarly critiques of my decisions which attribute all sorts of motives, theories and philosophies to me of which I was previously unaware."

"I say the following with some trepidation in a university, but it does strike me that scholars can sometimes be susceptible to what literary critics used to call the intentionalist fallacy. This holds that what the author of a novel, or in this case a minister and a policy, thought they were up to is far less significant than what the critic thinks they are about."

"This struck me forcibly when I was told that, in one book on penal policy, my approach is described as utilitarian. I am surprised and flattered to be described as a Benthamite, although, by coincidence, the concrete block my department inhabits is on the site of Bentham’s London home. I would not wish to suffer his fate; a stuffed body kept on public display at University College London and wheeled out for College Council meetings. People in the public eye spend far too much of their lives in meetings as it is. It seems rather harsh to suffer the same fate in death."

"I assume I was described as utilitarian because I believe that people who commit serious crimes should be locked up better to guarantee the happiness of the greater numbers in the communities they have wronged. That is part of my view, and I am unapologetic about it, but it is by no means the whole. In true academic tradition I will seek to elaborate a little this afternoon."

"In doing so, let me start with some statistics. Crime is down by over a third since 1997. We are the only government since the war to preside over any fall, still less a significant and sustained one. Reoffending is down by nearly a quarter over the same period. The chances of being a victim are the lowest for a generation."

"I recognise there is a dispute about the contribution incarceration makes to crime levels. I do not propose to take on that debate today. But what is incontrovertible is that the 35% reduction in crime has coincided with the growth in prison numbers by 40%, from 61,000 in 1997 to nearly 85,000 today (with a projected rise to 96,000 net in the next five years). I believe this is making a difference to crime levels, not so much because of the headline figures, but because of the story which lies behind them."

"75% more serious and violent offenders are in custody than in 1997 and violent crime has decreased by 41%. 44% of those currently in prison are serving sentences of four years or more, including indeterminate sentences for public protection. These were introduced so that offenders who present the greatest risk to the public can be kept in prison for as long as necessary. Some will serve a long time; there are currently 5,600 prisoners subject to Intermediate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) and over 2,100 are post tariff. I meet quite a number of IPP prisoners on prison visits, who complain to me in a puzzled way that they do not know when they will be released. That, of course, is the idea. They will only be released when they can satisfy the Parole Board they are no longer a threat to the public."

"That does not mean writing people off when they are behind bars. We have worked hard to ensure that prison is a far more decent, humane and constructive place than even a decade ago. We have increased prison drug treatment tenfold since 1996/97. Spending on offender learning has almost trebled since 2001, standing at £164 million. Prisoners are given the chance to think in new ways, behave differently and resist drugs and alcohol; to use the practical help offered towards employment on release and support through the probation service and voluntary organisations in the community."

"I want to single out our current drug framework, which, rather to my surprise, was the subject of a sympathetic article in yesterday’s Guardian. This framework is backed by resources – around £45 million in this financial year – but this is no guarantee of success. What the framework offers is a far more sophisticated, targeted model, looking for the most effective treatment and rehabilitation programmes, with far greater inter-agency working."

"Furthermore, we have focused on making sure particularly vulnerable, non-dangerous offenders are diverted away from prison when it is the right thing to do. The number of women in prison fell by 3% in the last year, and, after a rapid rise, the number of offenders under 18 went down by 8% over the same period."

"Indeed for many offenders found guilty of less serious offences, a tough community punishment can often be more effective in turning them away from a life of crime. It can allow more direct and visible ways to pay back to victim and community and gives offenders the chance to turn their lives around."

"This is part of why we have expanded community punishment; up from 140,000 sentences in 1997 to 195,000 a decade later."

"The different requirements for a community sentence allow the courts to make offenders confront specific problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental health and behavioural issues. But a central purpose of community orders is punishment through penalties such as Community Payback, curfews or banning orders."

"Despite the effectiveness of such sentences I cannot agree with those who argue that we should abandon short prison sentences altogether. Half the crime in England and Wales is committed by the same 10% of offenders. We need to tackle the problems of persistent offenders – and jail must be an option for those who fail to take their chance to avoid custody. These offenders need to understand that they will be subject to more punitive sanctions and ultimately custody if they do not to reform."

"To meet this, the courts can now sentence offenders on the cusp of prison to intensive alternatives to custody; orders with three to five requirements which punish offenders and offer them a chance to change. This is no soft option; it can include a curfew, backed up with electronic monitoring, unpaid work, as well education and courses which help change their behaviour. We have introduced intensive Community Payback for some unemployed offenders, starting with knife offenders and making it available for all offences from April next year. This is real work for several hours a day, starting from within five days of sentencing, directly tied to the offence committed."

"We are doing important work on community punishment for young offenders as well. Short custodial sentences are needed for some of these offenders. Adolescent boys can wreak havoc in a community; and so can a smaller minority of girls. I am, however, committed to other approaches to deal with prolific young criminals and want to look at new ways of tackling this. I know in particular the value of restorative justice; it was embedded in the youth justice system since the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act. Restorative justice is no soft option. To face your victim and to be forced to face up to the effects of your behaviour can be challenging and life changing for a young offender. I welcome the Prison Reform Trust’s report on the value of restorative justice."

"Too often this debate is characterised as a simple split between the most serious offenders on the one hand – those who receive substantial sentences – and those facing short-term sentences. This latter group, I am repeatedly told, should not be in prison: there is not enough time to deal with their offending behaviour and a community sentence would be more effective."

"The danger with this analysis, however, is that it overlooks the victim. The woman on a housing estate whose life is made a misery by some young thug who is finally taken off the streets and locked up doesn't have that young thugs’ offending behaviour at the front of her mind – she just wants some respite from the way her life has been made a misery."

"So we need a smarter response to what is undoubtedly a problem. How do we both ensure that the victims of such crime get the response they deserve, while also dealing with the many people in prison for short sentences?"

"The key here, I believe, is a smarter analysis of who actually ends up in prison. My department is engaged in some pioneering work to break down prisoners into specific groups. It's too simple to put all short-term sentenced prisoners in one category. The sentence length is not the defining characteristic and one blanket response would be ineffective and inappropriate."

"Sophisticated analysis on criminal careers is helping us to identify more effectively the costs and harm of different groups to society, and to target our response as a result. The options we give to sentencers, and the way we manage offenders, increasingly recognise this."

"We know from this analysis that there is not a typical short-sentenced prisoner. But we also know that there is a group of highly prolific offenders who have been convicted of at least 75 crimes, mostly ‘lower’ level, and who have been sentenced in court on average 41 times. I will not shy away from the fact that we need to take them off the streets. Overall reoffending rates are down, but I want to shorten these people’s criminal careers before they get to that stage. We have increasingly tough and increasingly tailored options to achieve that."

"We have developed a more efficient – though far from perfect – criminal justice service. There has also been a greater and understandable demand for resources. Such resources have been made available. In fact we have invested in the criminal justice system to an unprecedented extent. Prison budgets have gone up by 42% in real terms since 1997. Meanwhile the Probation Service’s budget went up 70% in the decade from 1997, while its caseload increased by 53% over the same period, staying stable thereafter."

"I know there has been a great deal of speculation about the settlement for the Probation Service for next year, so I am pleased to announce today that the revised probation budget for the next financial year will be £870 million. This is a reduction of 2.68% on this year’s budget, but is £26 million above the indicative budget of £844 million for the next financial year. It was after intensive discussions with the service, not least the probation unions, that Maria Eagle and I decided that we should do our best to raise that £844 million budget, and we have. I am very anxious that is used above all to provide the latest group of newly qualified probation officers (‘Cohort 10’) greater job security in permanent posts wherever possible."

"The Probation Service will focus on getting resources to the frontline and a requirement to make efficiency savings of over 9% in management and back office grades."

"This is a good settlement in a challenging financial climate, meaning probation services can provide the courts with robust and effective community sentences as a tough alternative to short term custody."

Jack Straw's speech concludes here.