Take Action Less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison

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1 Take Action 2010 Less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison

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3 Take Action 2010 Foreword At the Howard League for Penal Reform our first priority is community safety. When two-thirds of our prison population get out of jail and reoffend we question whether prison is making Britain s families safer. When 70 per cent of the people locked up in England and Wales have two or more mental health disorders we question whether doing nothing is the right option. And when our country treats children as young as ten as if they were criminally responsible adults we question the very nature of our modern society. Billions of pounds are spent on maintaining our prisons and building thousands of new prison places each year. Instead of tackling the underlying causes of crime by investing in communities and prevention, we spend ever-increasing sums on simply trying to manage the problem. In our flooding house, we spend our money on endless mops when we could look to fix the hole in the roof. Take Action 2010 doesn t recommend soft options; in fact the Howard League for Penal Reform believes the real soft option would be to continue punishing without efficacy, cost or purpose. Instead, we take a rational measured approach towards the radical change we need. This manifesto lays out our vision of less crime, safer communities, and fewer people in prison. We need to be tough with ourselves and control our own worst desires to punish for its own sake. The health and financial well-being of the country depends upon change. Frances Crook Director, the Howard League for Penal Reform 1

4 Less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison Introduction Take Action 2010 T his year the Howard League for Penal Reform is running a campaign that reaches out to all people in England and Wales. Since the mid-1990s the prison population has more than doubled and the prison system is now on its knees. Despite jailing more men, women and children than ever before, it seems to have done nothing to make people feel safer and indeed reoffending rates remain stubbornly high. Instead of simply accepting that each year the prison population will hit record levels, we believe it is time for a different vision to take hold. It is for that reason that we are asking as many people as possible to promise to do their part to fight for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison. Thinking differently about the criminal justice system is the first step to change. It is the first step towards a justice system that solves problems instead of causing them and a justice system that spends efficiently rather than consigning more and more public money to fund an ever increasing prison population. However, as well as this core goal we have laid out four specific policies that we want all political parties to sign up to. 2

5 Investing in the community Stop building new prisons and close failing prisons Target communities for justice reinvestment Give people the support they need to change Ending short prison terms Replace prison sentences of 12 months or less with community interventions Separate the prison and probation services Inform sentencers and ground their decisions in what works Justice for children Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility Engage the child behind the crime Ensure local secure units are the only form of child custody Real work in prison Give prisoners a reason to get off their bunks Provide prisoners with the chance to do real work Pay prisoners a fair wage that is taxed like the rest of us 3

6 Investing in the community Stop building new prisons and close failing prisons Target communities for Less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison 4 The prison population in England and Wales has doubled since We are continually setting new records for our prison population, with almost 85,000 men, women and children in prison at any one time. There is no evidence that increasing the prison population lowers the crime rate or protects victims. Indeed evidence tells us that a nation s prison population rises to meet the amount of prison places it has available. Politicians are forced to tell the lie that increasing the prison population cuts crime, so as to meet the tabloids expectations of tough justice. This in turn exacerbates the crime problem and the result is a treadmill of penal failure in England and Wales. Each year we build thousands of new prison places at a cost of almost 100,000 per place. Each new place is not a potential solution but a reaction to crisis. The UK spends a disproportionate amount on law and order, more than the United States and many major European Union members such as France, Germany and Spain. Yet people do not feel safe and trust in the criminal justice system is at an all time low. We believe that there is a better way for England and Wales to tackle the underlying causes of crime. A prison sentence handed down from central government is a blunt tool that is ineffective against the socially complex problems of local crime. Justice reinvestment is a new idea that moves the criminal justice budget and puts it in the hands of local people. An American pilot programme based in one state tested justice reinvestment and saw cuts in crime, cuts in the local prison population and identified millions of dollars of potential savings. Justice reinvestment would still allow the commissioning of prison places but would also give local strategic partnerships and neighbourhoods the option of spending criminal justice funds in the community. Funds could be

7 justice reinvestment used to promote crime prevention and directly solve problems such as accommodation, education and employment. Money would be used to tackle pragmatic local problems such as poor street lighting, lack of facilities for young people and poor lift services in council blocks. Surveys highlight that people have never felt less safe in their local communities and tackling crime directly in the local neighbourhood would change this. A justice process that people cannot see or understand cannot work. Instead the justice budget should benefit all people in society. Give people the support they need to change Community sentences offer the opportunity to challenge and change people for the better. Unpaid work, restorative justice, drug and alcohol treatment and programmes that offer mentoring and training allow people to make amends for what they have done and give them the support they need to change. There is no benefit to pretending crime happens in a vacuum and any comprehensive plan to reduce crime and make local people safer must offer genuine community options. This doesn t just include community sentences but genuine investment in the community to prevent criminal activity in the first place. Prison is a one size fits all response that comes close to fitting nobody. Crime and social disorder are complex problems that need to be tackled with reference to the local community and circumstances of the individual. We need a problem-solving justice approach where sentencers must provide a solution that tackles an individual s offending behaviour efficiently and for good, while doing more to explain their decisions to the public. 5

8 Ending short prison terms Replace prison sentences of 12 months or less with community interventions Separate the prison Less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison In 2008, around two thirds, approximately 66,000, of those sentenced received a jail term of less than 12 months. Such sentences are handed down to first time offenders who commit theft, fraud, forgery or are convicted of handling stolen goods. Our prisons are filled with individuals convicted of nonviolent crime, as well as many people languishing on remand who have not been convicted of anything. Many people in England and Wales are serving a life sentence one short prison term at a time. Prison is writing people off and our justice system is creating not solving social justice problems. Warehoused in custody for a few weeks then ejected back out on to the streets, it is no surprise that those given short prison sentences are set up to fail. It is estimated that 72 per cent of those sentenced to less than 12 months in prison will be reconvicted of a further crime within two years of their release. Reoffending rates for community sentences are much lower. The one year reoffending rate for community orders was 37 per cent in It is time that sentencers and the general public accepted that the slam of the prison door effect is a myth that we should no longer buy into. The criminal justice system should be helping people to solve the problems that led them to commit a crime rather than helping to create more problems and more crime. Communities should feel part of the justice process and not alienated from it. In the health sector, we wouldn t expect people with minor ailments to be treated by the heavy end of available care in the form of a hospital bed. Yet in criminal justice, our first response to most problems is increasingly the heavy end of a prison cell. Just as we have a network of general practitioners to provide healthcare in the community, so we should empower the probation service to 6

9 and probation services solve problems in the community and help prevent crime. We believe the current approach is overly centralised and bureaucratic. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) based in Whitehall contains both prison and probation and currently dictates how a community should reintegrate an individual into society. Their mindset is driven by the use of prison and managerial targets which are proving inefficient and inappropriate. A properly funded and properly local probation service should be at the heart of a problem-solving approach to justice. Inform sentencers and ground their decisions in what works If the criminal justice system is to help solve problems then it must work with the most effective interventions. Community sentences and court ordered fines are under used and under rated. Judges and magistrates are not considering community interventions sufficiently for smaller crimes and have not made sufficient note of the poor effectiveness of prison for many of the individuals currently serving time in jail. At the same time, public confidence in the criminal justice system is poor and decisions made by the courts are often misunderstood. We recommend that sentencers be made more aware of community options and do more to explain their decisions to the public. A criminal justice equivalent of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) in the health sector should assess sentences to determine value for money and effectiveness in securing public safety. In a localised system, this national body of excellence would provide quality assurance and promote good practice around the country. At a time of weakened public finances, it is all the most important that the money we spend on criminal justice is spent as effectively as possible. 7

10 Less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison 8 Justice for children Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility At age 10, England and Wales has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world. The United Nations recommends that 16 is the most appropriate age at which children can be held to account in the justice system. While a child can be held responsible at the age of 10 for criminal activity, our laws state they must be 16 before engaging in sexual activity and 18 before voting. We need to protect our children from making mistakes and we cannot expect vulnerable children to fully understand consequences or make judgements and decisions that many adults struggle with. The majority of European countries see a child committing crime as a welfare matter. If a child is committing crime then there must be something seriously wrong at home or elsewhere in their life. Welfare agencies are called in to examine what is causing the child s behaviour and to address those causes be it educational difficulties, mental health needs or abuse and neglect. Because we have such a low minimum age of criminal responsibility, our youth justice system is instead engineered to respond through punishment. A child who commits a crime needs support not prison. We should fight for every child s future, not write off our young people to a life behind bars. Engage the child It is time we recognise the child behind the crime. What a child has done is separate to who they are, and if a child commits a criminal offence, that offence should not ruin the rest of their life. We want to encourage a new way of working with children who commit crimes. A way of working that engages the whole child and the underlying causes of their behaviour, based on the welfare approach that is found in most other European countries. Only by addressing the needs of the child can enduring solutions be found. We believe that all children should be treated equally. At the moment there is a division between children who are seen

11 behind the crime as needing protection who have access to children s services and those who commit crimes and receive attention from criminal justice agencies. With so many children who offend themselves the victims of crime and in need of help, this is an artificial divide. Children s services need to take responsibility for all children and provide support to them and their families. Children who offend are children in need first. Ensure local secure units are the only appropriate form of custody England and Wales jails more children than any other country in Western Europe. Despite our obsession with locking up children, they have the highest rates of reoffending than any other age group, with a staggering 76 per cent of under 18s reconvicted within one year of release from prison. Since 1990, 30 children have died in custody. Children in prison experience forcible stripsearching, are victims of violent physical restraint and endure spells in solitary confinement. Prison custody is not safe for children or effective in cutting crime. Children are being subjected to the hardships of prison needlessly and their young lives are being wasted at the hands of the state. For the very few children who do require custody, they should be cared for in small, local secure units that are welfare-focussed, address the needs of the whole child and help them understand the consequences of their behaviour. They are the only units that provide adequate care. Instead of locking vulnerable children up in prisons, it is time to radically rethink about the way we manage our most challenging children. 9

12 Real work in prison Provide prisoners with the chance to do real work Give prisoners a reason Less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison The Howard League for Penal Reform believes prisoners should be introduced to the world of real work and its responsibilities. What little work that is offered in prison is menial, repetitive and poorly paid, with an average wage of around 9 a week. None of this makes the world of work seem more attractive or respectable than the world of crime. If we want people to take responsibility for their lives then we should do far more to engage them with meaningful employment and prison should offer an experience which is as close to the outside world as possible. Real work would target long term prisoners, those in prison for four years or more. In fact, prison work might represent the only period of continuous employment many of those in prison will have ever done. Real work requires an employment relationship between an external employer and the prisoner, in order to create a meaningful and realistic employeeemployer relationship. The work should be suitably meaningful to inspire pride in the work done and should be fairly paid for the task undertaken, to create an incentive to work. Prisoners are allowed a couple of hours a day to mill about on prison landings and spend the vast majority of time lying on their bunks. It is pointless to have thousands of prisoners spending years in their prison cells without providing them with the opportunity to work. These individuals gain nothing from languishing in isolation at the taxpayers expense. When the Howard League for Penal Reform tested a real work business two years ago, the graphic design studio Barbed based in Coldingley prison, our employees were so eager to come into work that they would have worked weekends if the prison had allowed it. 10

13 to get off their bunks Prisons shouldn t simply be warehouses for people but places of bustling, purposeful activity, with real work at the core of the activity on offer. Reintegrating prisoners back into society involves changing the entire prison culture. If we are serious about giving people the means to change their lives for the better, then real work and its responsibilities should be a key part of the day to day life of long term prisoners. Pay prisoners a fair wage that is taxed like the rest of us By paying prisoners a fair wage for the work they do we would ensure they see a viable alternative to a life of crime. Fair pay for work done by prisoners will help reduce the welfare burden, as it replaces benefits handed out to prisoners families. Further, it could serve to end the cycle of state dependence that long term prisoners are often caught up in, if instead they are released from prison with new found skills and some income to help restart their lives. A prisoner s ability to contribute to their family s welfare while incarcerated may serve to support their family unit, helping it stay together through tough times. Law-abiding citizens who are paid to work are also law-abiding citizens who pay taxes. A prisoner s wage should be taxed so that they can contribute to society in the same way that everyone else does. By taking on the responsibilities of work as well as the work itself, prisoners will be better placed than ever before to make the transition from custody to community. 11

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15 We need your support I would like to give a monthly amount of: Other minimum ( 2.00) If you give over the membership rate, we would like to make you a member of the Howard League for Penal Reform. If you do not want to become a member please tick here Your details Name Address Tel Postcode Gift Aid declaration I am a taxpayer. I want the Howard League for Penal Reform to treat all my donations as Gift Aid donations until I notify you otherwise. Instruction to your bank or building society to pay by Direct Debit Name and full postal address of your bank or building society The Direct Debit guarantee (this copied and retained by the payer) This Guarantee is offered by all banks and building societies that take part in the Direct Debit scheme. The efficiency and security of the scheme is monitored by your own bank or building society. If the amounts to be paid or the payment dates change the Howard League for Penal Reform will notify you 10 working days in advance of your account being debited or as otherwise agreed. If an error is made by the Howard League for Penal Reform or your bank or building society, you are guaranteed a full and immediate refund from your branch of the amount paid. You can cancel a Direct Debit at any time by writing to your bank or building society. Please send a copy of your letter to us. Originator s Identification No: Reference No: (office use only) Name(s) of account holder(s) Instructions to your bank or building society Please pay the Howard League for Penal Reform Direct Debit from the account detailed in this instruction subject to the safeguards assured by the Direct Debit guarantee. I understood that this instruction may remain with the Howard League for Penal Reform and if so, details will be passed electronically to my Bank/Building Society Signature Branch sort code Bank/Building Society account number Return to: The Howard League for Penal Reform 1 Ardleigh Road London N1 4HS

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