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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

The Prison Governors’ Association justice priorities

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We cannot go on thinking we can imprison our way to a safer society, not only is it poor value for money for the taxpayer, it also fails to recognise the evidence already available that there are better and more cost effective ways to protect the public and reduce reoffending.

Stephen O’Connell is the President of the Prison Governors Association and is the latest contributor to this guest blog series setting out the top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary. You can follow @PGA_Prisons on Twitter.

1.  Reducing the demand for prisoner places

  • Abolish sentences of under 12 months on the basis that community punishments are more effective and this would allow prison resources to focus more on those they can make a difference to.
  • Immediate review of all ISP prisoners pre 2008 over tariff with a view to releasing them on licence. All those convicted since 2008 for the same offences are probably already out.  The immediate review would only be required for those ISP prisoners who received a 2 year or less tariff prior to 2008 and are still in custody today, this number is likely to be in the high hundreds.

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2. No more system change

Allow NOMS to embed the Prison Unit Cost Programme and Transforming Rehabilitation changes it is implementing. It is vital that we do not face more system wide change at pace or the pressure to save even more money given our performance on this front between 2010 and 2015. Given the time, we could make real progress embedding the changes we are undertaking and delivering real unit cost reduction whilst transforming rehabilitation.

Linking these first two priorities,  it is clear that the only scope for further, significant savings in the short to medium term is to reduce the prison population, protecting the current investment in rehabilitation and to potentially increase it.

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 3.  A fresh approach to drug related crime.

This is not a call to legalise drugs during the next 12 months but a call to take a fresh approach to a war on drugs we cannot win using the current strategies.

  •  The illegal trade in drugs is a business and the current approach effectively hands this multi-billion £ business over to criminal gangs and organised crime. Like all business, legal or illegal, they must grow to survive and make profits, this means more users coming into the supply chain, more damaged lives, more crime etc.
  • We must accept there will always be a demand for drugs, not just amongst the excluded and criminal classes but at every level of our society. Once we accept the demand will always be there we can then either control it or seek to influence it through interruption of supply as the current policy fails to do. The best option is to move over time to a control model taking drugs policy out of the Justice process and into Health.
  • In a control model the Government can reduce crime and the prison population, improve harm minimisation and education, and provide the right support to people to deal with their addiction.
  • This approach would reduce the cost of crime and the CJ system, improve health outcomes and eventually reduce insurance premiums

We cannot go on thinking we can imprison our way to a safer society, not only is it poor value for money for the taxpayer, it also fails to recognise the evidence already available that there are better and more cost effective ways to protect the public and reduce reoffending.

 [Photo courtesy of Mark Harvey, check out his work here.]

The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be. Please use the comments section below or follow the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #nextGrayling


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All Probation Posts are sponsored by Unilink

With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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