Cast your mind back to 2010, the year when David Cameron became Prime Minister by a whisker, with the help of the Liberal Democrats, or not as the case may be.  He appointed Ken Clarke to be the Justice Minister, with the laudable aim of reducing the prison population. By all accounts, easier said than done.  The prison population in May 2010 was 85,500, way too high for a civilised country.  Six years’ later, good news indeed, the prison population has come down by 258.  Yes, you read it here first!

So what does this statistic tell us about crime and punishment?  First and foremost, it tells us that the sentencing guidelines, used by judges throughout England and Wales, need to be revisited as a matter of urgency. Prison sentences are being passed where prison is not the answer, and prison sentences are way too long. And worse still, the number of overcrowded prisons is going up and spiraling out of control.

Another interesting and depressing statistic is the number of prisoners who re-offend after release.  Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that 8.6 per cent of adults released from custody were convicted of a further offence, which was committed within 18 days of leaving prison or detention.

The sad reality is that little or nothing is being done to rehabilitate prisoners prior to release or to offer them anything other than a life of crime. The Prison Service spends most of its time on crowd control, so is it any wonder that re-offending levels are so high?  The easy answer, for the Prison Service at least, is to keep prisoners under lock and key all day and all night long, allowing them out only to eat or a short period of exercise.

Perhaps it’s the sentimental old fool in me that believes there is no such thing as a lost soul. Everybody, regardless of background or education, has something to contribute.  It’s all about finding and exploiting it.  This benefits the prisoner, it gives him self-respect and a feeling of worth, and it benefits society by releasing a genuinely reformed person with something to offer.

On average, it costs over £30,000 a year to keep a prisoner in prison. This money could be better spent on rehabilitation, but that will only happen once the prison population comes down by half.  Michael Gove has promised to speed up  the release of prisoners, especially short term prisoners who shouldn’t be in prison in the first place, but I see no progress in that regard.  Another broken promise?

With chronic overcrowding, little can be done to reduce the level of re-offending, and nothing can be done to make life more tolerable to serving prisoners.  If you treat them like animals, or even worse, you can’t blame them if they behave like animals.

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David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.

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