Magazine article The Spectator

Prison Works

Magazine article The Spectator

Prison Works

Article excerpt

One of the many ludicrous Liberal Democrat policies which Tories enjoyed rubbishing during the general election was their plan to send far fewer criminals to prison. But, alas, it seems that some bad ideas are infectious. Last week Ken Clarke, the new Justice Secretary, suggested that we can no longer afford to keep so many prisoners - so we should sentence fewer, and for shorter periods. Why, he asked, is the prison population twice what it was when he was at the Home Office in 1993? Isn't it time to cut costs?

As George Osborne prepares for his budget next week, he should be wary of this false economy. Locking people up offers a very good return on the taxpayer's investment. It may well cost £29,600 to keep someone in prison for a year. But we must set against this the fact that the average prisoner commits a remarkable 140 crimes per year before incarceration - and, according to the Home Office, the average crime costs £2,970. So out on the streets, the prisoners inflict £406,000 of damage (including the £30,500 cost of sentencing them in a crown court).

Mr Clarke also suggested that the public's fear of crime is exaggerated. If only. Sixty years ago, there were just over 1,000 crimes for every 100,000 people; in 1992, the postwar peak, this figure had soared to 11,000.

As of last year this had subsided to 8,500 - but crime is well over eight times what it was in the postwar years. Compared to other countries, Britain is a 'crime hotspot'. The latest European Union figures, collected three years ago, show England and Wales to have the third-highest crime rate in Europe. …

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