Lock up fewer criminals?


So Ken Clarke wants to save money by reducing the number of people in prison. As reported in The Telegraph the Justice Secretary suggested that fewer criminals should be locked up on shorter sentences.

So what does this mean for the average Joe. Will it be a good way to save money or will the streets be over run with dangerous criminals.

A quick glance a Wikipedia gives us a starting point.
England and Wales has one of the highest rates of incarceration in Western Europe. In 2006 an average of 148 people in every 100,000 were in prison.

On 22 February 2008, prisons in England and Wales had exceeded their "operational capacity" with just over 82,000 prisoners.[2] This is a near-doubling of the English and Welsh total from 42,000 in 1991; furthermore the Home Office predicts a population of 110,000 by 2010.

In 2004, each prisoner cost the taxpayer an average of £38,000. The rise in the prison population has been substantially driven by harsher sentencing. In 1995, 129 people were in prison for shoplifting; in 2005, it was 1,400. In 2001, 3,000 people were sent to prison for petty theft for a first time offence. One third of petty offenders lose their home while in custody; two-fifths lose contact with their families; two-thirds lose their jobs. Around half of all prisoners have a reading age less than an 11-year old. Two in five prisoners lack basic literacy skills and four in five do not have basic numeracy.

All this contributes to re offending rates of 59% within two years. The number of women in prison has risen disproportionately - from 1,800 in 1994 to 4,500 in 2004. 40% of women going to prison have previously attempted suicide.

In January 2008 it emerged that over 16,000 prisoners had been released early over the previous 7 months in an attempt to free up prison places.
If some of the massive increase in prison population is down to harsher sentencing, what does that tell us? The public are always crying out for tougher sentences, yet they rarely see the inside of a courtroom and almost never know what brings a sentencing judge to reach the conclusions he has. I can understand, possibly, the need for tough(er) sentences for serious crime, but is it necessary in cases such as petty thefts quoted above. Reading that passage I could get the impression that throwing the book at people who have committed only minor crimes, may in fact be causing more crime that it is preventing.

And its not just the sentencing we need to look at. The Prison Statistics Guide for 2009 (pdf) gives us a brief overview of the type of crime people are being sent to prison for.

The highest percentage of the prison population, 29%, are in for "Violence Against The Person". You could easily argue that they deserve to be right where they are, but what about the second highest percentage, drugs offences, at almost 15%? This is a higher percentage than robbery, burglary and sex offences.

Unfortunately we don't get a breakdown of the types of "Drugs Offences". I would assume that someone who steals to buy drugs would be recorded as a robbery or burglary. I may be wrong so I would appreciate clarification if anyone knows better. I am assuming that most of the drugs offences would be for sales and possessions.

I personally believe that if someone takes drugs of their own free will, bought with their own money and without harm or interference with another person, then they are fully within their rights to do so. The same goes for the person who sold them the drugs.

There are also a small percentage of motoring offences, some offence not recorded, and a large tranche of "Other Offences". The other offences category is higher than Theft and handling and almost as high as burglary.

I wonder what "other offences" are? I wonder if they are victimless crimes? I wonder if they are crimes that don't even deserve to be recognised as crimes?

I could not find up to date figures for imprisonment for non payment of fines, council tax and child maintenance. (although I didn't spend much time on it. Maybe I'll come back to it at a later date).
He (our Ken) also criticised short sentences , raising fears that he intends to resurrect the LibDem policy of scrapping jail terms of less than six months.
A few stats on jail sentences less than 12 months:

60,000 adults per year get sentences of less than 12 months
They make up about 9% of prison population on any given day
Account for 65% of all admissions and releases
Only 10% are more than 6 months
More than half are less than 3 months, so serve less than 6 weeks
On average they have 16 previous convictions, higher than any other group of offenders
60% will get another conviction within a year of release
Offences are theft and handling 21%, violence against the person 20%, breach of court order 16%, motoring 10%, everything else 33%
NAO estimates that a 6 week stay in prison costs £4,500
Estimates that a two year Community Order, including intensive supervision AND 80 hours unpaid work AND participation in accredited programmes costs £4200
May 2010

And finally, in the Telegraph
A prison place currently costs the taxpayer more than £40,000 a year, while fees at Eton College for 2010-11 are around £30,000. The prison population in England and Wales reached a record high of 85,201 last month.
They just had to mention Eton, didn't they.....

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