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Michael Howard attacks Ken Clarke's "fatally flawed" prisons policy

Tim Montgomerie

In an article for The Times (£) Michael Howard - the Home Secretary who oversaw the first reduction in crime in Britain's post-WWII period - describes Ken Clarke's proposal to cut prison numbers as "fatally flawed".

He tackles the Justice Secretary's arguments head on:

"He suggested that the fall in crime was caused by economic factors. But the day after he made this claim the crime statistics were announced for 2009, a year in which we saw the steepest recession in modern times. Crime had fallen. And research carried out by, among others, Steven Levitt, of Chicago University, demonstrates the absence of any link between economic conditions and crime and, on the contrary, the presence of a link between crime levels and imprisonment.

Then Mr Clarke suggested that the fall in crime since 1993 had taken place in all developed countries. The rise in crime in that period in, for example, Canada, Denmark and Italy, all accompanied by a fall in the numbers in prison, gives the lie to that. Indeed, you do not have to look any farther than Scotland, where an increase in the prison population was accompanied by a fall in crime, and Northern Ireland, where a fall in the number of prisoners was followed by a rise in crime, for further corroboration of the obvious proposition that there is a direct link between the rate of imprisonment and the rate of crime."

The former Tory leader pays tribute to other aspects of the Coalition's justice policy. He salutes efforts to reduce reoffending and pay prison service providers by results. He also writes that "it is essential to tackle criminal behaviour at its roots" and praises the "giant steps" taken by Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith in this regard. Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime?

COSTS Overall, however, Mr Howard stands by his prisons policy which, I've argued before, is one of modern conservatism's greatest policy successes. In the teeth of opposition from the criminal justice establishment, in the mid-1990s, Mr Howard sent more offenders to prison and crime started falling. The public were protected because a larger number of high volume offenders were no longer a menace to the public. As Howard reminds us, "Home Office research has shown that, on average, those in prison have committed 140 crimes in the year before they were sentenced at a cost to society of about £400,000." The anti-prison crowd are rightly concerned about the effect of prison on inmates and that is why we need more imaginative rehab programmes. The real concern should be for the victims of crime, however, and with more high volume criminals on our streets there are going to be many more victims.


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