Prison policy: it's about future vs past

Jack Straw is in the news today for a speech he’s going to give calling for a tougher line to be taken against criminals and prisoners. Fancy that – a Labour minister calling for tough action!

I think he’s got the key issue wrong. Yes, we do need to make sure that victims are respected in the criminal system and their views have appropriate weight, but so often things are out of kilter when it comes to the past versus the future.

Punishing criminals is about taking action over what they’ve done. Proper rehabilitation is about stopping them committing more crimes in the future.

When a criminal is in jail, we can’t undo the hurt and harm they’ve caused in the past – but depending on whether or not we take rehabilitation seriously, we do have some control over how many future victims of crime they’ll cause because – except for the most serious offences – those prisoners will be out of jail again some day.

And yet – rehabilitation is so often the poor cousin of the system, with excellent projects not bringing their full benefit because the money and headline attention goes on the rhetoric of toughness. We need to talk more about effectiveness, not vindictiveness.

PS Chicken Yoghurt puts it very nicely!