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.


First things first.  Very exciting news.  Following my blog (Jack It In) about the folly of prosecuting journalists involved in alleged misconduct in public office, the good news is that the CPS have taken on board my submissions and will not seek a retrial following the successful appeal of one of the journalists. The bad news is that Ms. Saunders, the misdirected Director of Public Prosecutions, has taken charge of an intensive review of all similar prosecutions in the light of the critical judgment by the Court of Appeal.  She and a team of lawyers will be working through the Easter break to decide whether to proceed with a further eight pending trials.  I can hardly contain my excitement! If I were she, and I am not, I’d take my advice and jack it in, lock stock and barrel.  It is doing her and the CPS no credit whatsoever in trying to argue the unarguable, and with a total bill to date of £20 million, time to cut and run.

As the countdown to the General Election gathers pace (yawn yawn), the two main parties vie with each other over crime and punishment. It is a sad reality that so-called right minded people, also known as middle England, see successive governments as soft on crime, and demand ever more draconian measures to punish offenders.  It is also a sad reality that rehabilitation is a dirty word, as it is akin to going soft on crime, and is definitely not a vote winner.

The statistics are instructive. When this coalition government was cobbled together in May 2010, the prisons were grossly overcrowded, with a total of 85600 prisoners serving  custodial sentences.  The coalition government undertook to reduce the prison population to save costs, and 80000 was the primary target.

There are essentially two obvious ways to achieve this objective: the first is to send fewer people to prison, and the second is to release them under licence into the community once they have served the custodial element of their sentence. Neither is working, as the prison population is as high as ever.  All the problems associated with overcrowding are still with us, and still middle England bays for blood, or at least longer and longer custodial sentences.

My old chum Harry Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice and now Lord Woolf of Barnes, is scathing about successive governments and their refusal to tackle these problems.  He is reported as saying: “Most politicians believe there are no votes in prisons and mistakenly think there are votes in being toughest on crime.”

It is worth remembering that a civilised society is judged by the way it treats its most disadvantaged citizens.  Overcrowding, poor hygiene, lack of facilities, violence, little or no rehabilitation and more, all combine to create a flawed system where the rate of re-offending is frighteningly high, and so it goes on, a self-perpetuating shambles which, according to Lord Woolf, no politician wants to address.