Friday, August 29, 2008

Building on Sand - Why Expanding The Prison Estate Is Not The Way To 'Secure The Future' - Professor Carol Hedderman Professor of Criminology

The debate associated with building the new Titan prisons has seen extensive coverage over recent times, including a letter signed by 35 Members of the Criminal Justice Alliance, all of whom have condemned the proposal. Many of the issues are highlighted on the Prisoners Education Trust web site and its most recent copy of 'Learning Matters' - see the link under 'Organisations' on the right hand side of this of this blog.

As part of this debate, Professor Carol Hedderman has written a thought provoking paper explaining why the Titan option should be cancelled. In her conclusions she says -

"Any calls to limit the prison population are likely to be portrayed by the popular press negatively as being soft on crime but that is not a good enough reason to conceal the damaging financial and public safety consequences of our increasing use of custody.

The consequence of pandering to ‘penal populism’ in the short term by building more prison places is that the financial costs of the building programme will be much greater than the forecast because it will feed rather than meet demand. The longer-term cost of leaving penal populists to frame the debate entirely in terms of punishment versus leniency will be felt in terms of reduced public safety. Recent history suggests that if the prison population rises, re-conviction rates on release will also rise. Developing a recognised measure – or ‘QALY’ – of public safety could help to inform and reframe the public debate so that the impact and value of different interventions can be compared in a common currency.

Finally, while it may be possible to meet the public’s demand for punishment and for sentences which are effective in reducing reconviction, more frequently, at the level of the individual offender, this results in sentences which send out such mixed messages that neither is achieved effectively. There is good evidence to suggest that the public has a more sophisticated take on this than either government policies or media reports give it credit for. It is important to capitalise on that if the use of imprisonment is to be used in a way which genuinely ‘secures the future’".

We can only hope that Ministers will soon acknowledge the overwhelming evidence against the Titan concept as well as the sophisticated take of the general public.

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