Imprisonment is a political issue
We know that the use of imprisonment in our country is more to do with politics than crime rates.
Why else has the prison population continued to grow over the last 20 years while the crime rate has dropped steadily?
Ever since the Labour election pledge in 1997 “Tough on crime, Tough on the causes of crime”, the main political parties have decided that it is political suicide to reduce the prison population.
It will be interesting to see whether the austerity agenda enables new Justice Secretary Michael Gove to challenge this orthodoxy.
Whenever there is any public debate about the use of imprisonment, you can be fairly confident that the tabloid press will produce figures on how many crimes are committed by people on bail.
So, I thought it would be interesting to see what the reality is.
Fortunately, the Freedom of Information Act has come to our rescue again.
What do the figures say?
Figures released by the MoJ on 21 August 2015 in response to an FOI request cover offences committed on bail in 2014. Interestingly, the MoJ didn’t just release the figures but provided a commentary to go with them to demonstrate the drop in the number of offences committed on bail within the last parliament (it would have been surprising if offences on bail had gone up as overall crime continued to fall):
“Overall, figures shows that between 2010 and 2014 the number of offenders convicted of committing an offence of any kind while on bail has fallen 48% from 69,348 to 36,053. The number committing rape while on bail has fallen by 56% between 2010 and 2014. The number committing murder while on bail has fallen by 49%. The number of convictions and cautions for burglary offences committed on bail has fallen from 20% in 2010 to 14% in 2014.”
However, the table below shows that this commentary is justifiable as the proportion of serious offences committed on bail has also fallen noticeably:
This Daily Mail headline from September 2013 (based on 2012 figures) would no longer be accurate.
Unfortunately, we do not know what offences people were on bail for – while there may be legitimate concern if a serious repeat offender was on bail for an offence of violence, it is likely that many or most were on bail for minor offences.
Perhaps another FOI request will provide a clearer picture…