June 30, 2010: Ken Clarke's Speech on Criminal Justice Reform
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Ken Clarke has given a speech on criminal justice reform at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. This is his speech.
Punishment and protection
Let me now turn to my thoughts on the contentious issue of how we punish offenders and protect the public – as I’ve already said, two of the most important priorities of all our work in the Ministry of Justice.
It seems to be a truism that everybody starts from the proposition that the first job of the Ministry of Justice is to protect the public and punish wrong doers and criminals.
But I said soon after I was appointed that I was amazed that the prison population has doubled since I was Home Secretary in the early 1990s, which is not so very long ago. It stands at more than 85,000 today. This is quite an astonishing number which I would have dismissed as an impossible and ridiculous prediction if it had been put to me as a forecast in 1992.
Sentencing should not be based on costs. So far as I am concerned we are not going to approach sentencing matters in this country on the basis of cutting costs. Sentencing should be based on the principles of retribution, reflection of public anger and the effective prevention of further crime. But we certainly shouldn’t ignore the fact – the taxpayer certainly doesn’t – that it costs more to put someone in prison for a year than it does to send a boy to Eton. The taxpayer is providing keep and accommodation for Her Majesty’s guests – in grossly overcrowded conditions – at expensive hotel prices for 85,000 people.
How has this come about? Well in recent years, political debate on law and order between rival parties has rather tended to be reduced to a numbers game. Do we have more police officers? Have we put more people in prison for longer? Have we thrown more money at a particular problem? Sometimes it seems to me that the measure of success has been solely about whether a Government has spent more public money and locked up more people for longer than its predecessor did in the previous years.
The consequence of that is that more and more offenders have been warehoused, sometimes in outdated facilities, and we spend vast amounts of public money on a growing prison estate and ever more prisoners.
Contrary to what the Financial Times has apparently reported this morning, we haven’t stopped doing that. We are still placing contracts for new prisons.
But has proper thought has been given to whether this is really the best and most effective way of protecting the public against crime – which is what we should all be concentrating on?
How do we best go about improving the safety and protecting the property of honest citizens in the most cost effective way for the taxpayer?
I don’t doubt that certain forms of crime have fallen in recent years as the prison population has exploded. But have they fallen because more people are in prison? Some forms of crime actually appear to have increased. What we call anti-social behaviour shows no signs of vanishing. Where crimes against property do appear to have fallen, is that because more people are in prison, or because there was less temptation to live by crime during a period of economic boom?
One thing I ask you is: do the public feel any safer as a result of this huge increase in the population? In my experience, I think not. People are still worried about the level of crime. Indeed, in fighting the recent election it was clear that crime remains one of their top three concerns – up there with immigration and the economy.
Now a great mass of grave academic and social research has produced arguments on both sides as to whether more prison produces less crime. My judgement is that there is no simple and conclusive answer. You can’t actually prove it either way. I am sure that prison is the necessary punishment for many serious offenders. But does ever more prison for ever more offenders always produce better results for the public? Can we carry this argument on ad infinitum? I doubt it.
We have many more people in prison than many other countries which have lower crime levels than our own. We have actually one of the highest crime rates in Western Europe, and we have one of the highest prison populations.
I think it is too simple just to argue about tougher sentencing or softer sentencing – both of which have fervent advocates. That might make for a good headline, but I believe in intelligent sentencing, seeking to give better value for money and the effective protection that people want.
There are some very nasty people who commit nasty offences. They must be punished, and communities protected. My first priority is the safety, as I keep saying, of the British public. That is what my department is for.
But just banging up more and more people for longer without actively seeking to change them is, in my opinion, what you would expect of Victorian England.
It is time we focused on what is right for today’s communities.
Too often prison has proved a costly and ineffectual approach that fails to turn criminals into law-abiding citizens.
Indeed, in all of our experience, in our worst prisons it produces tougher criminals. Many a man has gone into prison without a drug problem and come out of prison drug dependent. Some petty prisoners can meet up with some new hardened criminal friends with whom they associate on release.
Reoffending has been rising again in recent years. It appears to be up by about 8% for adults between 2006 and 2008. It is astonishing that nearly half of offenders sent to prison are reconvicted of another offence within a year of their release. More than half of the crime in this country is committed by people who have been through the prison system. The rate of reoffending is even higher – 60% – for the 60,000 prisoners who serve short sentences each year.
That doesn’t actually surprise me. It is virtually impossible to do anything productive with offenders on short sentences. And in the short time they are in prison many end up losing their jobs, their homes and their families. That is why this Government, as I will explain later, has committed to a full review of sentencing policy to ensure that it is effective in what it is supposed to be doing – deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and, the part where we’ve been failing most, cutting reoffending.
We want a far more constructive approach. This means prisons that are places of punishment, but also of education, hard work and change. It means rigorously enforced community sentences that punish offenders, but also get them off drugs and alcohol abuse and into employment.
The voluntary and private sectors will be crucial to our success. We want to make far better use of their enthusiasm and expertise to get offenders away from the revolving door of crime and prison.
The most radical part of our new approach – what some of my colleagues call the ‘Big Society’ – will involve paying independent organisations by results in reducing reoffending.
Outside bodies would have clear financial incentives to keep offenders away from crime. And success would be measured perhaps by whether they find and keep a job, find housing and so on – whether they become functioning members of society – but above all by whether they are not reconvicted within the first few years of leaving prison.
We are still developing this. My colleagues – Jonathan Djanogly, Crispin Blunt and Tom McNally – and I are going to try to turn it into a practical, clear policy we can implement.
The intention in opposition was to pay for this new approach through the cash savings it was hoped it would generate for the criminal justice system. In Government, we intend to pursue this virtuous circle: reduced reoffending, fewer victims and value for money for the taxpaying public.
I share the enthusiasm of my Ministerial team about some of the things that are happening now, including the work proposed to start soon on Social Impact Bonds in Peterborough Prison. We have already arranged to pay the social investors there if and only if they reduce the reoffending of short sentenced prisoners.
But eventually our aim is to expand payment by results to other groups of offenders. We want to encourage third sector organisations to grow so they can support more and more people, and work to turn around more and more lives.