I fully support Brian Binley MP for Northampton South in calling for tougher sentences for knife crimes and those carrying knives.
The practicalities of course of tougher sentencing is that there is a desperate shortage of prion places with the current population at an all time high, so unless there is going to be a significant, and by that I mean huge prison building programme then talk will be cheap and undeliverable.
The solution to prison numbers is not one of infrastructure but a refusal to recognise that the only way to resolve the issue is to manage and not build the way out of the problem.
It is important to recognise that the Government Policy of front loading determinate prisoners period in custody with education and the last 12 months with vocational qualifications whilst laudable doesn’t consider the HOW.
The reality is that ask any professional working in the Prison system and they will point out that this would exclude those sentenced to Life, those on Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) and of course the 14%, (11,600) Foreign National prisoners.
What professionals would then face would be accusations of being biased and treating one set of prisoners unfairly and all of the problems that would bring.
Martin Narey as Board Member of the Prison Service in 2004 very honestly told a select committee that the rise in education funding in prisons to £150 million was ‘based on a hunch that it would prevent re-offending’. Things have not changed except of course the costs are now £300 million.
Ken Clarke as Minister of Justice is promoting a prisoner 40 hour working week policy, when in fact the core week in prison regimes is less than 40 hours a week and they like all public services are facing draconian staffing cuts on the front line.
The vocational training employability policy is all well and good providing employers and most importantly employees are willing to employ and work with ex-prisoners which I see as a major problem especially in businesses where the number of employees is less than 10.
Whilst the employer might be willing to employ an ex-prisoner how will they explain it to their workforce who will in the current recession point to someone they know who is unemployed and who has never fallen foul of law.
In particular of course to the almost 1,000,000 young people who are unemployed.
So what is the solution?
Firstly the UK Border Agency have to really commit resources to removing Foreign National prisoners from the country at the end of their sentences. It is unacceptable that some Foreign National prisoners are retained on an Immigration Service Detention Warrant IS91 in prisons costing £500/week to the taxpayer and are entitled up to £90/day a total cost of holding them in prisons of £58,000 a year.
Or to put it in perspective every Foreign National prisoner held on an IS91 is the equivalent to employing 2 Newly Qualified Primary Teachers from the public purse.
Secondly, all prisoners unfailingly state that no matter how many court appearances they have had previously it always comes a major shock when the judge says “Take him Down”.
If we are serious about reducing re-offending from the current level of 68% then a real concentration should be on tackling and working with those who are first time in custody with a promise that if they come back then the regime they face will be harsh. By managing first timers out of the system the population would fall by 10,000 with savings of a minimum of £26 Million a year, and will give head room in the system to then deal with those who are serial re-offenders.
Thirdly, Governors should be given the budget and responsibility to procure and deliver the services to meet the needs of the prisoners in their establishments.
Prisons have a number of roles, retribution and the removal of liberty, rehabilitation and preparation for release are essential but it is now very clear the current system is failing and that a whole new approach is required.
An approach that concentrates on those British National prisoners who have received determinate sentences and who will be released into society is not only cost-effective but also fulfills what I belive the whole purpose of prisons should be, that of
Preventing the Next Victim.
It would restore faith in the prison system and provide greater support to our police forces who as we speak are faced with protecting the public whilst battling against real and serious cuts in funding and staffing arising from Local Authorities balancing the books.