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Gannon On Prison

by msecadm4921

A Coalition Government shift on prisons and punishment will have an effect on front line security in the commercial and retail sectors. This is not simply about cuts it’s about a change in culture which will have an effect on UK security, argued our regular contributor Jim Gannon in the February print issue of Professional Security magazine.

When Ken Clarke left the Home Office in 1993 the number held in UK prisons stood at around 45,000 while today the numbers are approaching double at around 84,500. The Justice Minister has commented that he finds this an ‘astonishing number’ but he appears to have failed to recognise that almost doubling the prison population has impacted on the crime figures. According to the British Crime Survey, criminal offences fell from 19 million in 1995 to 10.7 million in 2009. While custodial sentences might not work for the system, they certainly do for the public, because when a criminal is locked up he cannot commit crime and this is a fact not lost on those engaged in the private security industry. During the early 1990s when Ken Clarke first served as the Home Secretary he also embarked on cutting prison numbers, only to be faced with a sharp rise in crime which also affected the commercial sector.<br><br>When Michael Howard took on the role he had a dramatic effect on the crime figures and reversed the trend. His announcement – ‘if you don’t want the time, don’t do the crime’ was widely reported in the media, as an indication of the type of approach while he was at the helm. I have over recent months commented on crime and punishment, which in my opinion significantly impacts on the way our industry does its job. Certainly it affects decision makers when considering the effect crime can have on their business and how much investment they are prepared to make, to protect their own commercial and private interests. Recently the Justice Secretary when launching what is referred to as a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ was quoted in the media as saying ‘there is not and never has been,in my opinion,any direct correlation between spiralling growth in prison population and a fall in crime’. While Mr Clarke says that the size of our growing prison population is unaffordable, and adds that it costs on average £45,000 a year to keep a person in custody, the facts are that according to the Prison Service, the average cost is only circa £29,500 and for lower category prisoners around £23,500. This appears considerably less than the figures quoted by the man in charge. The answer to the punishment problem appears to be a greater use of community sentences and the probation services, the latter already well stretched. Those who advocate greater use of community services have experimented with numerous options but according to information open to the public ,it fails to do anything better than custody. The rehabilitation revolution appears therefore to be a means of cutting costs rather than serving any useful purpose to the general public or those really affected by crime, in the retail and commercial sectors. What is more important is the cost of crime on Industry across the board which appears no where in the discussions about the proposed way forward.<br> <br>Sentences <br>According to press reports the scheme most touted by advocates of non-custodial sentences, is intensive supervision and surveillance, a multi-million pound initiative designed no doubt with the best intentions, to keep the very worst of our young offenders out of prison. Some will say why bother spending all this money, just build more prisons, lock them away and cut crime figures this way.<br>Supporting this theory is a report released by Portsmouth University’s Institute Of Criminal Studies which destroyed the so called claims made by the advocates of the no-custody theory.<br>It declared that the programme failed to protect the public or to rehabilitate the young offenders. According to reports more than  90 per cent did further crimes after a period of supervision had ended. Some of the quotes made by those who had been on the scheme did nothing to enhance its worth to the public; but only the actual results will tell the true story.<br> <br>Radical shift <br>The Conservative Party had a core belief that prison worked but the latest indication is that the Justice Minister intends to bring about a radical shift in our penal policy by two methods. One is the ‘rehabilitation revolution’; secondly the reduction of prison places. Whilst the latter might initially be more controversial ,the fact is that an increasing number of offenders will no longer face the threat of prison. Instead they will be free, serving community sentences, or with custodial sentences reduced or in drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres. This at least appears to be the plan. While one has to say that not much has changed in the last three decades it is still a hard fact that seven out of ten prisoners under 25 will re-offend within 12 months of their release. This is costing the country £15 billion a year, and rising. A rise of some 36 per cent in spending since 2004 and yet little to show by way of improvement of reducing re offending. While some still say that prison is the ‘ineffectual approach’ to the re offending problem, I say – ineffectual for who exactly? certainly not the victims of crime or those directly involved with them. While the debate will no doubt rage on, in the meantime the Ministry of Justice has to find savings of some £2b out of the £9billion budget allocated, with the objective of re-allocating funds from prisons to social welfare services in the hope it will reverse the crime trend.<br><br>This is far from the policies of ‘zero tolerance’ introduced by the police chiefs from New York and Chicago who turned the tide of crime by adopting strong-arm tactics backed up by long custodial sentences for those hell-bent of sticking to the life of crime. It didn’t suit the criminal world but it certainly suited the public and commercial sector alike. It’s clear to see why community sentences are popular for those holding the purse strings as the cost of custodial sentences are high whilst a two year community order can cost as little as £4,200.<br> <br>Impressed?<br>While everyone wants to see new ideas given a chance, the fact is that the statistics do not appear to be backing up the claims. The general public are not convinced and here is why. Repeat offenders re-offend at the same rate whether they are on a community order or not, so what picture does that paint. In 2008 it was reported that more than 250,000 offences were committed by offenders who had actually completed community services. What did the community order do other than put them back on the street. Did it offer training,work, housing, education or anything constructive which might help the criminal turn around his way of life? At least in Young Offenders Institutions they get some opportunity to improve if they want it. For community sentences to work there must be the threat of a full custodial sentence if criminals re-offend. Accepting that nothing will change unless something different is done we must give Ken Clarke credit for giving it a go.<br> <br>What effect? <br>The non-custodial policy does little to help either the commercial or retail sectors in their efforts to curb crime in their organisations.<br>In my last organisation my dedicated team were responsible for catching numerous offenders each year, but one of our best deterring factors was getting an offender not only dismissed but convicted in a court with custody. While this was becoming more difficult in the last few years a custodial sentence demonstrated our real effectiveness in the front line and helped to get those budgets signed off when backed up with captures,convictions,dismissals and recoveries of stolen property. While security personnel are the unsung heroes in the commercial and retail world, as deterrence is so difficult to measure, I have to say that the threat of going to prison if caught, has been a great help to me over the years in my efforts to detect and deter crime, in the police and commercial sector. <br><br>I read with great interest an open letter to the Sunday Times on December 26, which is timely and appropriate from David Davies MP for Monmouth, headed ‘Prison is Cost Effective’. He pointed out that it is misleading to argue that it costs an average of £45k a year to keep a prisoner locked up, when this includes the very expensive maximum security prisoners kept in top security units. He points out that it costs even less than the £23,471 quoted for category C prisoners by the Prison Service because a typical Cat C prisoner will have no work history and they will be living on a range of social benefits, which could actually exceed the cost of keeping him locked up. As the benefits cease when they are locked up, the true cost to the taxpayer is actually minimal. This also ignores the cost of crime to society. On the suggestion that half of the crime in the UK is committed by around 100,000 criminals whilst also noting that only 15,000 of these are only locked up at any time – David Davies makes the point that if we locked up the other 85,000 criminals, we would have to double the prison budget to £4 billion. However this would lead to halving the crime which would potentially save £30 billion pounds per year, so the reality is that prison is an absolute bargain for taxpayers all round. This is dealing with the subject matter in simple terms but if Ken Clarke is putting forward an argument based on cost then the response to rebut the claims are bound to be in the same vein.

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