This week, the Commission on English Prisons Today published its final report, following two years of enquiry. The report - Do Better, Do Less - argues that the English penal system has over the last decade morphed into a bloated, incoherent mess – bursting with record numbers and lacking any coherent rationale. It is this mess that a Conservative government may soon inherit.
The Commission – on which I was proud to serve – argues for a change of direction. It is time, its report says, for English society to stop bingeing on prisons, to radically scale back its dependence on incarceration as the path to social order. To this end, the report suggests breaking with national government interference and targets in favour of localism in criminal justice policy. It makes a powerful case for re-directing the prison budget towards non-penal, community-based methods of reducing crime and re-offending – an approach known as ‘justice reinvestment’. It argues for expanding the use of restorative justice – a justice innovation that is a proven success.
All this is underpinned by the new public philosophy of punishment that our society pressingly requires – what we call penal moderation. This urges restraint in how English society talks about and delivers punishment; calls upon us to recognize and reap the benefits of a minimum necessary penal system, and demands a criminal justice system which treats all whose lives are caught within it with human dignity. Moderation, we argue, is an idea whose time has come - one that fits a dawning era of regulated responsibility in economic and social policy.