Ken Clarke is right to focus on reducing re-offending but locking dangerous offenders up gets them off the streets
Yesterday, Ken Clarke published a consultation paper on his plans to radically reform the criminal justice system. The crux of his case is that in the long term our current approach does a very poor job of keeping us safe because almost half of all adult offenders and three quarters of young offenders released from custody re-offend within a year. He proposes:
- making greater use of strenuous work as part of community sentences alongside tagging and curfews;
- a greater focus on the collection of crimes;
- inviting charities and private companies as well as the public sector to run programmes to reduce re-offending on a payment-by-results basis;
- a much stronger emphasis on offenders directly compensating their victims; and
- in the case of less serious offenders with drug or mental health problems, more of a focus on treating their condition than custody.
He is right to focus on reducing re-offending but he needs to proceed slowly - we need to be sure this new approach works better. Prison may not currently be very good at reducing re-offending once people are released but it does get criminals off the streets.
I am particularly concerned regarding the issue of knife crime, where the consultation paper seems to water down the clear manifesto pledge on which he and I stood:
- the Conservative manifesto promised, "Carrying a knife is totally unacceptable, so we will make it clear that anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence";
- the consultation paper says, "We are developing a new community based intervention that is specifically designed to prevent this kind of violence. This will help to ensure that offenders who are caught in possession of a knife will face consequences and a response intended to prevent their behaviour from escalating".
I am clear which of these two approaches the people I was elected to represent want to see.