Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

More prisoners, less crime

From David Green

Sir: Douglas Hurd pointed out that the prison population increased from 44,000 in the 1980s to over 75,000 today ('Does prison really work?', 14 May). If '"prison works" in reducing crime,' he says, 'then obviously a sensational increase in the number of prisoners should produce a sensational reduction in crime. But it hasn't.'

Actually, it has. A casual glance at the crime figures, available to anyone who goes to the trouble of looking at the Home Office website, would have revealed to the distinguished former home secretary that crime began to fall by rather a lot soon after the prison population increased. The prison population was about 45,600 when Michael Howard became home secretary in 1993. He increased the prison population sharply, a trend continued since 1997, so that now there are 75,500 prisoners.

What happened to crime? According to the British Crime Survey, crime fell from a peak of 19.4 million crimes in 1995 to 11.7 million in 2003/04. Is there a connection? The Home Office has found that the average prisoner committed 140 crimes in the year before going to jail. A full year in jail would, therefore, prevent 140 crimes per prisoner. Since 1993 an additional 30,000 criminals have been incarcerated, thus saving 4.2 million crimes (30,000 x 140). Offenders with a drugs problem (about 70 per cent of all prisoners) commit 257 crimes per year. Imprisoning 30,000 of them prevents 7.7 million crimes, uncannily close to the actual fall according to the British Crime Survey.

David Green

Director, Civitas,

London SW1

From John Mustoe

Sir: Douglas Hurd is much too nice a person to have anything to do with the prison service. Prisons are full of people who see good people as suckers, and more robust action is going to be needed if we are to get the prison population down.

The ending of slopping out was kind, humane, progressive even, and that may give a warm glow to Lord Hurd, but for the prisoners it made life a little easier, a little more tolerable, more comfortable.

What we need to do to cut the numbers of people who will risk a prison sentence is to make the experience very nasty indeed.

No TV, no radio, the bare minimum of boring food, no heating (throw them another blanket), hard work earns slightly better rations, passing literacy and numeracy exams earns better rations, but the whole thing is a very big misery. Criminals will have a very bad time and people will tend not to do things that are painful. It is called aversion therapy.

John Mustoe


Influence of affluence

From Dennis Outwin

Sir: You have suggested several reasons for the disappointing Conservative vote in the recent election (14 May). Here is another one. Far from suffering in the way your contributors suggest, I would say that the middle classes have never been better off. The signs are everywhere. Saga cruises and other expensive foreign holidays, low inflation, a stable currency, low unemployment, a continuous house-price boom, increasing inequality and reduced social mobility since 1997, record sales of champagne - these are not the indications of middle-class stringency. Any member of the middle class who is hard up today must be either ill or incompetent (or, to be fair, looking after sick relatives).

The signs are, of course, that it will all end in tears, perhaps sooner than we think. If so, Blair will be hooted off the stage, followed closely by Brown. But that day has been expected for some years, and we are still waiting for it. Meanwhile the middle-class attitude seems to be 'Let the Good Times Roll!'

Dennis Outwin

Gorleston, Norfolk

Hospital makes you fat

From Ian Duke

Sir: Like Jessica Johnson (Letters, 14 May), I too have recently visited an A&E unit. The story was the same: vending machines packed with high-fat, high-sugar snacks.

Kingston Hospital defends its policy on the grounds that it is a 'response to patients' demands' and that the patients' environment guidance on which star ratings are assessed states, 'Visitors should be able to access food and drink around the clock. …

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