This is the fourth of fifteen draft Bills in an Alternative Queen's Speech that sets out what a legislative programme might have looked like if a majority Conservative government had been elected. Read more about the initiative here.
That Britain has highest one of the highest prison populations in Europe is nothing to celebrate, particularly as each prisoner costs the taxpayer over £40,000 a year.
But cutting prison numbers does not mean locking up fewer criminals. In recent years there has been too much focus on easing pressure on our full prisons by replacing custodial sentences with community service and suspended sentences. In 2004 2.6% of sentences handed down for imprisonable offences were suspended. In 2010 this figure was almost 30%.
Jailing criminals protects the public and lowers crime. Therefore our prison policy should have two aims. First, removing from prison those who do not belong there. Second, more custodial sentences and better rehabilitation programs for those who do.
One in seven UK prisoners is a foreign national. They should serve their sentences in their country of origin, not stretch prison capacity here at the British taxpayers’ expense. Thousands of mentally ill criminals end up in prison, where they often lack the care they need. They should be sent to mental health professionals or social services.
These two reforms would free up time and money for the authorities to do what they should be doing – jailing more criminals, setting up rehabilitation clinics to get them off drugs, teaching prisoners the skills they need to find work, and providing post-release supervision and mentoring to reduce re-offending.
Advocating greater use of prison does not mean locking people up and throwing away the key. We should spare no effort to rehabilitate prisoners, but nor should we be afraid to say that, for the incapacitation of criminals and the protection of the public, prison can work, and prison will be made to work.