Prison reform by reducing reoffending is an area where a changed Conservative Party intends to make a massive difference.
Some progress has been made in the last thirteen years, but still our prisons are on the brink of crisis. The Government recently announced the end of its reckless early release scheme – apparently having been advised that it would have to be re-introduced after the election. It is the irresponsible action of a government that has long put political expediency ahead of the national interest. But there is an even deeper problem at the heart of the prison estate. The ideal of a criminal justice system which makes any significant contribution to reducing reoffending is a long way off.
Every year over 300,000 offences are committed by those released from prison during just the year before; and half of all crime is committed by those who have already been through the criminal justice system. Too many prisoners are simply going in and out and in again. It is a disturbing waste of lives and money, and has no place in a modern, civilised Britain.
I found myself in Peterborough and Holloway prisons last week. The staff at both work very hard, but it was also clear that a prison can only be as good as the flaws in the system allow: overcrowding across the prison estate means around 200 of Peterborough’s prisoners are actually from London, cut off from their families and future employers; a lack of diversion into proper treatment means 70% of prisoners have two or more mental disorders; a country plagued by drug abuse, and again, a lack of diversion into proper treatment, means the young mother I met in HMP Holloway and her 3-month-old baby are both behind bars; no support post-release and no job to go to had led Susan, another prisoner, to complete a sentence for shoplifting, only to be released and do it all over again. The depressing examples are endless.
Yet failings are easy to moan about, particularly when solutions are hard to identify and implement. Change will of course be difficult, and require tremendous political will, but we can and must try. Reducing reoffending is our aim above all, and to achieve it we need a rehabilitation revolution both in and outside prison - before, during and after custody.