Think Tanks


15 Jan 2012 14:29:49

Thousands of children are needlessly dumped in prison, warns the Centre for Social Justice

By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter.

CSJThe Centre for Social Justice is today recommending an overhaul of Britain's youth justice system. The CSJ says the youth justice system is being treated as a “dumping ground” for problem youths and is currently expected to take on cases that other council services have failed to address.

A report by a team of experts, commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice, due to be released on Monday, says that Britain is failing to prevent youth crime, and that imprisonment of young people between the ages of 10 and 17 is far too frequent in England and Wales. This course of action should be limited to the “critical few” guilty of serious crimes and who represent a threat to the public.

The CSJ says too many children are being taken before the youth courts for trivial reasons. In one case cited in the report, a child was arrested for assault and attempted burglary, then held in a police cell over a weekend for throwing a bowl of Sugar Puffs at his care worker, then jumping out of the window and climbing back in again. The report stresses the need to return to a “common-sense” approach to minor incidents such as these and advises that parents and teachers use their own judgement to deal with problem children at a home or school level.

The report also advises against the widespread use of short sentences for young offenders, instead suggesting alternative non-custodial punishments, such as more rigorous community sentences and restorative justice schemes, not least because three out of four of those given a custodial sentence reoffend within a year. A further point made by the report is that schools, children’s social care teams, mental health services, communities and families should be playing a greater role in improving the behaviour of young offenders.

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27 Aug 2011 07:24:21

Dominic Llewellyn: Rebuilding British society and tackling societal problems must involve empowering communities

Dominic Llewellyn leads trade missions for social enterprises with the Big Society Network and UKTI, and runs a social innovation consultancy, and is a Governor of Excelsior, Newcastle’s only City Academy.  

The last couple of weeks have shown us British society at its best and at its worst; the horrific scenes we saw of rampaging youths rioting across some of our major cities and the inspiring internet campaign that saw thousands of us clean up our streets. The inspiring campaign however must not mask the fact that pockets of British society are broken and that our communities are fragmented. We need a stronger and bigger society.

Governments have made significant mistakes in the way they have worked with civil society over many decades. Some have sought to control people through the machine of the state, whilst others have abdicated responsibility. I am hopeful that this Government is looking at a different approach. Indeed, in his speech last Monday, David Cameron commented “Government cannot legislate to change behaviour, but it is wrong to think the State is a bystander. Because people’s behaviour does not happen in a vacuum: it is affected by the rules government sets and how they are enforced”.

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22 Aug 2011 08:12:00

Danny Kruger: 65% of boys with a convicted parent go on to become criminals. We need to change that.

Danny Kruger provides the latest instalment of our series looking at the conveyor belt to crime. Danny who runs a charity for ex-offenders, Only Connect, was a speechwriter for David Cameron.

Kruger-DannyTo my mind the most important development in social policy in recent times wasn’t any innovation in public services. It was the re-discovery (in the words of the title of Sue Gerhardt’s groundbreaking book) of ‘Why Love Matters’. Gerhardt and others, such as Felicity de Zulueta of The Maudsley Hospital and Camila Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company, have demonstrated how our early experience of relationships literally shapes our brain, and so conditions the personality we present to the world.

Thus modern neuroscience has brought us back to some very traditional truths – not least the importance of ‘breeding’, a word now lost to polite conversation – and presents a real challenge to the hegemony of liberal social policy.

Liberals of left and right, determined to enforce their respective fetishes – equality or freedom – by intellectual brute force, simply insist that every generation begins the world anew. Circumstances and relationships, the contingent factors which make an idea good or bad in practice, have no place in this worldview. But we are becoming forced, by events and by science, to face facts again.

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19 Aug 2011 07:33:32

Alexandra Crossley: Disrupting the gangs that feed the conveyor belt to crime

Alexandra Crossley of the Centre for Social Justice recommends action against gangs in the fourth part of our series on lifting young people off the conveyor belt to crime. Previous entries have looked at early intervention, family and parenting and community policing.


The involvement of street gangs in the violence and criminality that exploded onto our streets last week comes as no surprise to those working in Britain’s most deprived neighbourhoods. Over the past ten years, an undercurrent of gang culture has been simmering beneath the surface of mainstream society.

Central and local government action to tackle this problem has been inadequate and as a result, street gangs have become a way of life for thousands of young people.  Worse still, lives have been tragically lost.

Inaction cannot be blamed on confusion. We know what factors drive gang involvement. Family breakdown, in particular fatherlessness, is at the heart of the problem: the gang gives young people in our most deprived communities a sense of belonging and safety, where a family does not. Similarly, for young people growing up in neighbourhoods with worklessness and dependency, educational failure and a poverty of aspiration, the gang offers a way out. It can offer a lucrative alternative to mainstream employment (some gang members earn £1,000 a week at age 14) as well as status and power. For many, gangs have the answer to the ills of society’s most disenfranchised and deprived young people.

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18 Aug 2011 06:57:40

Blair Gibbs: The role of community policing in fighting crime

This is the third in a series of articles examining the conveyor belt to crime. Previous contributions have looked at the importance of early intervention and supporting families. Today, Blair Gibbs of Policy Exchange looks at policing.


Debate around police tactics during the riots has stoked interest in policing philosophies and the merits or otherwise of ‘community policing’.  The Prime Minister’s use of the phrase ‘zero tolerance’ distracts from this, and should only be taken as a signal of the legitimate public desire for a firm response by the wider criminal justice system to the serious criminality that occurred. 

‘Zero tolerance’ is not the same as ‘community policing’ and it is a mistake to conflate them. As Bill Bratton - the greatest police leader of his generation - has argued, ‘zero tolerance’ is a crude misrepresentation of the policing philosophy he advocated. Bratton’s success in New York, not to mention much more success with far fewer resources while he was chief in Los Angeles (2002-2009), did not come from ‘zero tolerance’. That is never sensible or practically possible. It implies mass arrests for all minor offences and the total absence of proportionality and officer discretion.

What really happened in New York was a change of leadership which drove a change of organisational culture, and with that, came a change of tactics on the ground.  Local commanders took control, were held accountable for crime, and whilst arrests went up, that was a product of a more proactive, disruptive policing approach – not an objective.  More important was the application of a new philosophy of community policing, that changed the way the police saw their role.

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13 Jun 2011 11:30:22

In report on prison work schemes, Policy Exchange recommends "real work" with fair pay

By Matthew Barrett
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6a00d83451b31c69e201538e1e85df970b-200wiToday Policy Exchange published its latest report, Inside Job. This report focuses on work schemes in the prison system, and how they could be improved. 

It finds that there are many shortcomings with the current work regime. The report recommends a normal working week for prisoners, as a better way of engaging with society and stopping re-offending. At present, most prisoners leave custody without adequate discipline and work ethic for a working life. 

Faults with the current work system include:

  • The average weekly hours worked by prisoners fell from 13.3 hours per week in 2005-06 to 11.8 hours per week in 2009-10
  • In spite of a 70% growth in the prison population since 1995, the number of prisoners working in prison workshops has only grown by 7%
  • As a proportion of total prison capacity, prison work places were 17% in 1995, but are only 11% today
  • Policy Exchange found no evidence of a private company directly employing inmates in a business operating inside a prison in England and Wales
  • Prisoners currently only receive £9.60 per week for their work
  • They pay no tax on this figure, and victims receive no compensation from prisoners' earnings

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16 May 2011 19:00:03

New Reform reports show the potential benefits and favourable public attitudes towards for-profit delivery in public services

ByREFORM Matthew Barrett

The Reform think-tank today launched a new report highlighting cases of successful private sector involvement in public services. These include:

  • The Valencia region in Spain, where 20% of health services are provided by private sector organisations, who have to deliver at a cost 25% lower than the public sector.
  • In Germany, a third of hospitals are run by for-profit organisations and a further third by not-for-profit organisations. All hospitals are accessible to German citizens through the national programme.
  • In Britain, private sector companies have operated prisons for some years. In 2010, an independent evaluation of HMP Doncaster, operated by Serco, found that “the prison is considered to be leading the way in terms of the rehabilitation revolution”.
  • A number of failing Local Education Authorities have been run by for-profit companies since 1999. Cambridge Education @ Islington became the education partner of the London Borough of Islington in 2000. By last year, the borough's GCSE results have nearly caught up with the national average, having once being among the worst.
  • Other Local Education Authorities have given contracts to for-profit companies to help them improve schools. In 2008, for example, Northamptonshire County Council agreed a three-year contract with the for-profit company EdisonLearning to improve seventeen primary schools and four secondary schools in the council's remit. In the first two years of the contract, the proportion of 15-year-olds achieving five good GCSEs increased from 24.8% to 33.3%.

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7 Feb 2011 07:54:10

Policy Exchange proposes exit plan from European Court of Human Rights

Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2011-02-07 at 07.36.33

A new report from Policy Exchange -  Download a PDF of "Bringing Rights Back Home" - calls for Britain to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if the Court cannot reform itself. The report's recommendations have the backing of the vast majority of the British people. 66% agreed that ultimate authority on human rights should be with Britain's own Supreme Court. Only 19% said it should stay with Strasbourg.

The retired Law Lord, Lord Hoffman, backs the report in a foreword. “In the last few years," he writes, "human rights have become, like health and safety, a byword for foolish decisions by courts and administrators”.

The press release from Policy Exchange states:

"The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg no longer fulfils the function for which is was founded with judges both there and in the UK stretching the text of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to make it apply in situations where core human rights are not at stake. Judges too often now see their role as making, not interpreting. The Strasbourg court also fail to take sufficient account of the cultural and other differences between countries – such as the conflict between the Convention’s “right to privacy” and the British tradition of freedom of the press.  The 47 Strasbourg judges also enjoy virtually no democratic legitimacy and are poorly qualified compared to Britain’s own senior judiciary."

On Saturday the Daily Mail highlighted how the Strasbourg judges were often very poorly qualified for their powerful positions. Many do not speak either of the Court's languages (English and French) or have even served as judges in their home nations. Read more here.

12 Dec 2010 08:26:22

Significant reductions in prison populations tend to be associated with spikes in crime rates

Tim Montgomerie

In today's Sunday Telegraph I ask the question: Is it safe to send fewer people to jail? The answer is no.

Earlier this week Civitas released a short report rebutting Ken Clarke's claim that crime has fallen throughout the world, whatever the prison population. In fact the evidence shows that "significant reductions in prison populations tend to be associated with spikes in crime rates". The graphs tell the story:

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More at Civitas.

14 Sep 2010 11:56:05

Centre for Social Cohesion argues "imperfect" Control Orders are an important instrument of national security

By Tim Montgomerie

Screen shot 2010-09-14 at 11.52.09 Control Orders were introduced by the last government to impose various restrictions on people who are suspected of terrorist connections. One of the reasons why the individuals cannot be deported, which is the usual remedy for such individuals, is the fear that they may be tortured in their countries of origin.

A new report from the Centre for Social Cohesion, written by Robin Simcox, lists some of the people who have been subject to COs:

  • Faraj Hassan al-Saadi, convicted in Italy for membership of a terrorist group and described as the ‘European envoy’ of Musab al-Zarqawi, the former head of al- Qaeda in Iraq;
  • Abu Qatada, the al-Qaeda ideologue convicted in absentia in Jordan of terrorist offences;
  • A suspected member of the Tunisian Fighting Group, convicted in absentia in Tunisia of terrorist offences;
  • A senior member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), a proscribed terrorist group, convicted in absentia in Morocco of terrorist offences relating to the May 2003 bombings in Casablanca; and
  • An Ethiopian suspected of undertaking terrorist training in Somalia, who was also associated with the 21/7 suicide bomb plotters.

A PDF of his full report is here.

In today's Times (£) Rachel Sylvester identifies the issue as a source of tension between the Coalition partners:

"The spooks and the cops are unwilling to see detention without trial brought down to 14 days. They are opposed to the idea that control orders should be scrapped. David Cameron — a more paternalist Tory than civil libertarians such as David Davis — may be unwilling to overrule his security experts, who are warning that to take a more liberal approach could make a terrorist attack in Britain more likely. But if he insists on retaining Labour’s controversial measures that would put him on a direct collision course with Nick Clegg on an issue of symbolic importance for the coalition. “These are big battles,” says one insider."