Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Prison Works?

European crime hotspots are the UK, Irish Republic, Estonia, Netherlands and Denmark, according to a new EU study.

In a follow up to my earlier post about Britain's soaring prison population, Dominic Lawson writing in the Independant makes some compelling points;

Does putting people behind bars reduce crime?

Well, between 1993 and 2001, New Labour adopted the 'prison works' approach - the number of prisoners rose by 45%. During this period, according to the British Crime Survey, which the current government regards as the most reliable, recorded crimes fell precipitously from more than 19 million to 12.6 million.

Coincidence? Maybe but

The average offender carries out 140 offences a year. Lock up an extra ten thousand and you have a 1.4 million drop in crimes.

But prison doesn't work scream the 'let-em-out' brigade pointing to data showing that 53% of those jailed for robbery go on to reoffend.

However, what they don't tell you is that 69% of those serving a non-custodial sentence also go on to re-offend. As Mr. Lawson points out, "Prison may not have a massive deterrent effect, but not-prison has even less power to deter."

OK, retort the 'let-em-outs', but we already imprison a greater proportion of the population than any other European country save Luxembourg.

Yes, we do. However, this is because Britain is a much more crime-ridden country (as pointed out by the EU study). In England and Wales 12 people are imprisoned for every 1,000 crimes committed. In Spain that figure is 48 per 1,000; in Ireland it is 33 per 1,000. Both those countries have much lower crime rates than ours.

Yes, but, won't building all those new prisons cost a load of money?

Well, it's true that Gordon Brown didn't like the idea of building more prisons because of the cost to the taxpayer. However, he should have done his sums a little better. It would cost about £7bn to double the number of prison places. Yet the annual cost of crime is estimated to be in the region of £60bn. As they say (somewhat annoyingly), do the math.

Lawson ends with a less than subtle dig at the middle-class bien pensants,

I realise that newspapers such as this one and The Guardian will continue to argue against such stern measures - and will continue to sneer at the red-top tabloid press for arguing for them. The Sun and the Mirror know their readers, however: the victims of crime are overwhelmingly among the least well-off. The relatively well-to-do have every right to parade their consciences. They are unlikely, however, to encounter the consequences.