The state of our prison system

I blogged earlier this week about why I think Jack Straw has it wrong when it comes to cutting crime. We don’t need more rhetoric about ‘I’ll be tougher than you’, we need effective action – and that includes better rehabilitation so that we cut reoffending rates, but instead the state of these services and our prisons system so often means that it’s just a case of out of jail and commit another crime.

Mary Riddell has an interesting piece in the Telegraph today about the failings of our prisons system, including:

The Ministry of Justice’s own study reportedly shows that 81 per cent of victims would rather an offender got an effective sentence than a harsh one: 80 per cent favoured community sentences if they work.

People worry, rightly, about the rise in some violent crime. Most would say the violent offenders whom I met at Wandsworth deserved their sentences; so would I. But surveys don’t reflect any clamour to lock away children, mothers and the mentally ill who could be more effectively punished or treated outside jail. People want safety, not vengeance. Mr Straw should grasp those points quickly, for time is running out.

Of the 66,000 offenders who get out of jail each year, three-quarters are unemployed. That primes them to re-offend, at a cost to the taxpayer of £13 billion a year. Things may soon get worse. As unemployment soars, few employers seem likely to favour the Wandsworth bricklayer above the 100 other applicants of unblemished character. (Read more here)

Meanwhile, we also have the news that the education system for prisoners hasn’t been working:

The Offenders’ Learning and Skills Service (OLASS), rolled out two years ago to provide skills training and help tackle reoffending, has “failed in almost every respect” of its work, a report by MPs said on Tuesday…

n reality the system has not produced a core curriculum, meaning that prisoners who are moved can often not continue their chosen course, the report said. Learning was also being hampered by the failure of the prison service and education providers to pass on records when prisoners moved between prisons or into probation.

Ministers have emphasised the importance of education in reducing reoffending – 50 per cent of people in custody have no qualifications. But MPs said the courses on offer were of little use to prisoners serving less than 12 months and reconviction rates for that group had not changed as a result. (Read more here)