Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shift Titan Prison Money to Community Alternatives

Over the last few months there has been increasing recognition that, with the exception of securing our most dangerous offenders, prison does not work in reducing the re-offending rates of non-dangerous offenders. Rather prison is described as the university of crime and the emphasis is now on increasing community based alternative sentences.

Yet plans for the two to three billion pound Titan construction costs remain. The challenge of course is that the first of these prisons will not be ready before 2012, that is assuming, along side the work for the 2012 Olympics, the builders and staff can be found to construct and subsequently man it.

Critically, as our prison numbers have continued to rise, capacity and cell space has simply run out. Pressures for the shift to Community alternatives is therefore increasing by the day. Unfortunately, capacity here is also limited. Probation staffs are over stretched and voluntary organisations strapped for money.

The crisis is worsening by the day. Clearly, there is a need for urgent action and 2012 is simply too far away. If we agree that community based sentences are the way forward and that prison is not effective, should we not divert the Titan money into community alternatives. By changing the focus of Probation from an 'enforcement agency' to supporting offenders away from crime, as well as increasing the money available to associated voluntary organisations, a major and rapid shift in provision could surely be implemented, negating the need for Titans and helping to reduce the current prison population.

Unfortunately, I suspect that someone in the Treasury will say that such a proposal is not possible because the Titan money is 'ring-fenced' and cannot be used for other purposes. I wonder if this is the case or whether common sense might yet prevail?

No comments: