Thursday, January 20, 2005

Winning goals: Rethinking Crime and Punishment

Extracts in this feature are adapted from I Would Rethink Crime and Punishment By...published today by the thinktank Rethinking Crime and Punishment.

I would reallocate resources within the prison service budget to give a higher priority to rehabilitation, retraining for future employment, and an improvement in literacy standards. During my own prison journey I was struck by the astoundingly high levels of illiteracy among prisoners. Tests show that about a third of all prisoners read and write at skill levels below those of 11-year-old schoolchildren.

I would pursue the idea of prisoners being able to earn extra remission as a result of achieving NVQ qualifications, computer skills and higher literacy standards.

Lord Adebowale: Chief executive of homelessness charity Turning Point

I would rethink social care and regeneration. This is not a moral argument but an economic one. By tackling poverty and social exclusion effectively we can prevent a great deal of crime. One-third of prisoners have a severe alcohol dependency, two-thirds have mental health problems, and one-third say they were in local authority care as a child. For many, prison merely serves as an example of how little value current welfare services add to their lives.

None of this is meant to excuse the crimes they have committed, but it should spur us to action. Providing the right interventions, earlier in life, will be far more cost-effective than prison, and will do far more for the victims of crime. A US study found that every dollar spent on tackling poverty saved $7 in other costs, such as criminal justice.

In the long term, providing effective social care that meets people's whole needs, including education and employment, will be more effective than any criminal justice programme.

Sir Charles Pollard: Former chief constable of Thames Valley Police, and a member of the Youth Justice Board

Let's integrate restorative justice fully into our criminal justice system. Ninety per cent of crime victims find restorative justice helps them get over what happened. Many offenders stop or reduce their criminal activity after being confronted directly with the impact of their crimes on others. And citizens who have participated become more engaged themselves with upholding standards in their local communities. The facts speak for themselves. Restorative justice is an idea whose time has come.

Eric Allison: Prisons correspondent

Imagine that you are ill. You see your GP, who tells you that you have, say, a stomach disorder and prescribes tablet X. A month later, your condition has worsened and you return to the surgery. The doctor tells you to give the medicine time, increases the dose and sends you on your way. A further month goes by, and now you are in agony. Another appointment. You are in the waiting room talking to another patient, who says he has gout and that the tablets the doctor gave him do not appear to be working. To your astonishment, you find that he too is on tablet X. You take a spot survey of those in the waiting room; they are all on the same medicine and not a soul feels better for it.

Surely, it's a case for the General Medical Council to consider striking this clearly dangerous doctor from the register.

An unlikely scenario? Yes, of course. Except that it's a script that is written hundreds of thousands of times a year within the penal area of our criminal justice system. Everybody who gets sent to prison - man, woman or child - receives basically the same treatment... a treatment that has proved time and time again not to work. There are 75,000 people in prison and 75,000 different reasons why they are there. Yet they are all on tablet X.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Nick Ross: Broadcaster

Let justice be done and revenge be had, but let us stop kidding ourselves that punishment axiomatically cuts crime. Given the vast investment in prisons and other punishments, it is extraordinary how little scientifically credible research has been done on its effectiveness in reducing wrongdoing.

Perhaps - from a purely crime reduction perspective - some people should be locked up longer and others should be told to go home. I want to find out, and this is too important for us to go on relying on convention, gut feeling or political inclination.

Meanwhile, our focus on punishment distracts us from the thousands of more immediate, and often cheaper, steps we can take to redesign products, policies and services to make the prospect of detection more certain and, better still, to make crime less tempting and less easy to commit.

Lord Hurd: Former home secretary

I would make a determined effort to stop the rise in prison sentences. Judges and magistrates send more people to prison for longer, not because there is more crime but because they feel that public opinion demands it. So our prisons are overcrowded as never before.

In these conditions, the chances of reforming a prisoner are slim. More than half reoffend within two years of release. Prison has not "worked" for them or for the community. The two keys to progress are: provide those who pass sentences with convincing alternatives to imprisonment, and do everything possible to help prisoners on release to find a job and a home so that they do not immediately drift back into crime.

Dame Anita Roddick: Founder of The Body Shop

Let's put an end to the myth that prison works. Politicians must stop looking to America for tough ways of dealing with crime.

I'd feel safer knowing that crime prevention measures are in place, alienated communities are socially included, and that mentally ill and drug-dependent offenders are treated, not punished. It's a crime too that so many vulnerable women are in jail. We waste so much human potential if we are unimaginative when responding to crime.

Erwin James: Writes a column, Life Outside, for the Guardian

Let's first of all take the responsibility of punishment, including the prison system, away from the main political arena. The only political involvement in my model would be from an all-party home affairs committee that would engage with and oversee what I would ensure was a fully independent body responsible both for sentencing policy and prison conditions.

This body - let's call it the Prisons and Sentencing Council (made up, perhaps, of teachers, social workers, doctors, beat police officers, probation officers and academics) - would base its policy decisions on information gathered by its dedicated teams of specialist researchers. The courts would carry out sentencing according to these policies, and the court appearance would be the time for the person in the dock to be subjected to public opprobrium and private shame.

The arrival at prison for those sentenced to a period of incarceration would mark the beginning of the rebuilding process. Prisons would be establishments that would encourage personal development and responsibility through therapeutic counselling, academic education and the pursuance of creative activities.

The prison journey, however long it might be, would be constructive and geared to lead to the eventual successful reintegration of the imprisoned person back into the community.

Ann Widdecombe: MP for Maidstone and the Weald, and a former prisons minister

If prison is to work it must be purposeful and prisoners must spend their days in education and work. Offending behaviour courses must be properly linked with post-release supervision.

At the moment, we take people who are poorly educated and come from unstructured lifestyles, lock them up in idleness, and then open up the prison gates expecting them to leadindustrious, law-abiding lives. It is cloud cuckoo land.

I would like to see a government plan for introducing full working days into every prison by 2012.

Juliet Lyon: Director of the Prison Reform Trust

Why not reduce the reach and aspirations of the criminal justice system and put prison back where it belongs - as a place of absolute last resort.

A tragic, unintended consequence of improving prison, before reserving it for serious and violent offenders only, has been to turn it into an under-resourced, capacious social service struggling to dispense drug treatment, low-level mental healthcare and basic education.

I would call on other public services to shoulder their shirked responsibilities and invest more in preventive work and support for vulnerable families. Above all, I would look to an authoritative, confident government to reduce fear of crime and create a justice system based on proportionality and fairness, not on vengeance and populism.

Tony Adams: Former Arsenal and England footballer; founder of the Sporting Chance Clinic

I would do more to help people with drink or drug problems. I spent time in prison through a drink-related incident. The long and short of it was that I was completely out of my head - a simple case of a man having problems with alcohol.

I spent three months in prison and, astonishingly, received no education in the areas of alcohol and drug abuse. Inside prison I was with people with similar problems to mine; they'd been out of their heads on mixtures of alcohol, cocaine, crack or whatever - but ultimately they had committed crimes that, in the clear light of day, they would not have done. If you give people education on the drugs they have been using and also introduce them to a high level of physical and calming exercise there is a dramatic fall in the number that reoffend.

Jonathan Myerson: Writes a Society Guardian column about his experiences as a Labour councillor in Lambeth, south London

What's the problem with youth justice? Young offenders never have to say sorry. Yes, referral panels are a step in the right direction. But after his first offence, the average teenage-on-teenage mugger sits and listens to his brief make tortuous, often legalistic excuses on his behalf, but never has to face up to it and say: "I did it. I'm sorry. It was wrong."

Meanwhile, months pass between crime and trial, and by the time sentence is announced the new offender has usually already reoffended and is lost to any hope of rehabilitation.

So my proposal is simple. Henceforth, the mugging victim will have a choice: he can make a statement and proceed through the courts, or the offender can be brought before him, in a controlled setting, and the offender has to look him in the eye and say sorry. Genuinely. And if he does, that's the end of it. No further action.

Mary Riddell: Columnist

Take children of 14 and under out of a criminal justice process designed for adults. Child courts would address welfare issues and place those found guilty of grave offences, such as killing, in local authority custody, close to home.

Older children, up to 18, would also be removed from the care of the prison service and the young offender institutions that produce a grievous toll of unhappiness and suicide.

Treating children more humanely would send a powerful message to a system inclined, across the board, to focus too much on punishment and too little on rehabilitating the vulnerable of all ages.

· Extracts in this feature are adapted from I Would Rethink Crime and Punishment By... published today by the thinktank Rethinking Crime and Punishment. Copies are available free. Details:

By Johnathan Aitken posted 20 January 2004

Rethinking Crime & Punishment


England and Wales

London police may moor prison ship on Thames
UK: The London police are holding discussions about possibly mooring a prison ship on the River Thames in a bid to ease pressure on the spiralling prisoner population.

Prisons accused of ignoring age trend
UK: A 70-year-old prisoner who uses a wheelchair has to pay "unofficial helpers" six chocolate bars a week to help him get around and to collect his meals, according to an investigation by the chief inspector of prisons into the growing number of elderly inmates.

Scandal of society's misfits dumped in jail
Up to 70% of inmates in Britain's jails have mental health disorders. In the first of a three-part series, Nick Davies hears their shocking stories.


Prison boom will prove a social bust
Hardened criminals are not filling NSW's prisons - the mentally ill and socially disadvantaged are, writes Eileen Baldry.

Isolation, psychiatric treatment and prisoner' control
The 2003 NSW Corrections Health Service (now Justice Health) Report on Mental Illness Among NSW Prisoners states that the 12 month prevalence of any psychiatric disorder in prison is 74%, compared to 22% in the general community, and while this includes substance disorder the high rate cannot be attributed to that alone.

Where the Norm is Not the Norm: HARM-U
In the absence of public policy, this paper is an attempt to shine a light through the rhetoric and test for coherency in the policy and function of NSW’s only supermax prison, the High Risk Management Unit. Its present use will be compared with the ‘vision’ flogged by the Premier and the Department of Corrective Services (the Department) at its inception in 2001.

Crime and Punishment
Mark Findlay argues that the present psychological approach to prison programs is increasing the likelihood of re-offending and the threat to community safety.

Government justice not personal justice
Mr Brett Collins of Justice Action said, "Victims should be looked after properly by implementing restorative justice measures and victims should be compensated for their pain and suffering. " However prisoners are entitled to serve their sentences in peace and privacy as well."

Sentencing: Violent crime and practical outcomes
In addition introducing restorative justice programs giving the offender a chance to interact with the offended person if they wish and visa-versa. People are not "dogmatic" therefore should be given a second chance opposed to Life means Life!

Carr Govt dramatic increases in the NSW prisoner pop...
Following the opening of the 500 bed Kempsey prison, and a new 200-bed prison for women at Windsor the Council of Social Service of NSW (NCOSS) and community organisations specialising in the rehabilitation of prisoners, have expressed concern....

New Zealand

More jails will create more crime says expert
NZ: Once a world leader in restorative justice, New Zealand is regressing by locking more people up for longer, visiting expert Sir Charles Pollard says.


Prison System Fails Women, Study Says
State policies designed for violent men make female offenders' rehabilitation difficult, an oversight panel finds. "If we fail to intervene effectively in the lives of these women and their children now, California will pay the cost for generations to come," said Commissioner Teddie Ray, chairwoman of the subcommittee that produced the report.

Child Offenders on Death Row
Recent Australian studies of alcohol and cannabis use show that girls are increasingly inclined to behave boldly. But boys out number the girls, two to one; and three to one in the juvenile justice system, mortality figures, speeding infringements and car crash statistics.

Restorative Justice and the Law
To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe."-- Marilyn vos Savant.

Restorative Justice Practices
Restorative Justice Practices of Native American, First Nation and Other Indigenous People of North America. This is part one in a series of articles about restorative justice practices of Native American, First Nation and other indigenous people of North America. The series is not intended to be all-inclusive, but rather a broad thematic overview. A related eForum article, "The Wet'suwet'en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program: Restorative Practices in British Columbia, Canada," can be read at:

The Long Trail to Apology
Native America: All manner of unusual things can happen in Washington in an election year, but few seem so refreshing as a proposed official apology from the federal government to American Indians - the first ever - for the "violence, maltreatment and neglect" inflicted upon the tribes for centuries.