An excellent article in today’s Guardian by Juliet Lyons of the Prison Reform Trust in the UK reflects on the important new report from the House of Commons Select Committee on Justice entitled Cutting Crime: the case for Justice Re-investment.
That report makes sensible, yet brave, recommendations for the future of UK penal policy. In short, it tells us that expanding the prison system will not provide solutions to criminal activity. In fact, more prison building is costly and counter productive and the huge resources invested in prisons should be redirected to prevention and community-based work with offenders. The Irish Penal Reform Trust has been making similar recommendations in the Irish context.
As the report notes:
We believe the Government faces a choice of risks: either to muddle through with the current plans hoping that commitments made under the ‘predict and provide’ model of penal policy will prove affordable (and not merely a self-fulfilling prophecy); or to make more radical decisions, and investments, putting the system on a sustainable footing over the longer term by shifting resources away from incarceration towards rehabilitation and ‘prehabilitation’. Our evidence convinces us that the latter approach, which we recommend, represents a prudent, rational, effective and humane use of resources over the longer-term and is necessary if the current costly prisons crisis—which even the planned prison building would only postpone—is not simply to recur.
This report is a must-read for anyone interested in planning penal policy in a sensible, cost-effective and humane fashion. It is critically important for our Government to engage in the same kind of sober assessment of our current penal system.