7 Dec 2010

Prison reform tackles youth reoffenders

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke pledges to end the rise in prison numbers by tackling criminals who reoffend, as he is accused of a U-turn after scrapping a key Tory election pledge.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told MPs today the cycle of reoffending must be broken in order to stop young people becoming “the prolific career criminals of tomorrow”.

Publishing his Green Paper which aims to cut the current inmate population of 85,000 by 3,000, Mr Clarke said a radical approach was needed to sentencing policy to prevent criminals going back to crime on release.

Labour accused the Justice Secretary of a “humiliating U-turn” after he scrapped a key Tory election pledge that anyone caught carrying a knife could expect a jail term.

The Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan claimed the Green Paper on sentencing meant a series of pre-election promises to be tough on crime had now been “abandoned”.

The proposals were a “bluff on crime and a bluff on the causes of crime” and were really about reducing the prison population to cut costs, said Mr Khan.


Mr Clarke’s plans will aim to stop the revolving door of crime, divert criminals with mental health, alcohol or drug abuse problems into treatment and bring in a rehabilitation revolution with a series of programmes designed to stop repeat offenders from reoffending.

“The present criminal justice system falls short of what is required. Around half of offenders released from prison re-offend within a year,” the Justice Secretary told the House of Commons.

“Re-offending rates for young offenders sentenced to custodial or community sentences are even worse.

“It is not acceptable that three-quarters of offenders sentenced to youth custody, re-offend within a year.

“If we don’t stop re-offending by young people then the young offenders of today will become the prolific career criminals of tomorrow.”

Other proposals include halving sentences for those who plead guilty early and curtailing judges’ powers so that indefinite sentences, currently being served by more than 6,000 prisoners, will be reserved for only the most serious of offenders.

Payment by results will also be piloted, with proposals to involve the private and voluntary sector in running unpaid work sentences for offenders.

Mr Clarke said he wanted to simplify sentencing to “make it more comprehensible to the public and to enhance judicial independence.”

Community orders would be reformed and there would be changes to the controversial indeterminate sentence for public protection.

Backbench backlash

Mr Clarke’s plans came under fire from Tory backbenchers concerned that criminals would avoid being sent to prison.

Conservative MP Philip Davies said official figures showed 3,000 burglars and 4,500 violent criminals with 15 or more previous convictions were not sent to jail and people with more than 100 previous convictions who came before the courts were more likely not to be sent to prison than to receive a custodial sentence.

“How on earth can you accept those figures that your department issued and say that too many people are going to prison?

“Because most people in the country would look at those figures and conclude that too few people are going to prison.”

Mr Clarke told him courts had to give the “right sentence” for the offence committed and it was “not possible to generalise”.