13:29, July 01 176 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-01 13:29:16
Prisons policy is not helping to cut crime

When I saw that Rory Stewart – a compassionate and clear-thinking man, based on his wonderful travel writing – had been appointed as prisons minister, I allowed myself to hope, fleetingly, that he would apply that compassion and clear thinking to his new role. How sad, then, to read in your columns that, against his own better judgment, he is calling for money to increase the prison population “because I’m not sure there’s the will among the public and the will among parliament to take measures to reduce that population” (Get real – our jail numbers are going up, says minister, 27 June).

Everyone in the criminal justice world knows that imprisonment leads more often to the revolving door than to rehabilitation. Yet community-based sentences for non-violent offenders offer them a real chance to address the causes of their offending. Stewart could, at a stroke, promote measures to cut costs and reduce crime. What is the point of government ministers if they don’t seize the power invested in them by their ministerial office to offer policy leadership?

Gwyneth Boswell

Visiting professor, school of health sciences, University of East Anglia

In a tone of apparently rueful resignation, the prisons minister reluctantly concedes that neither the public nor parliament have the will to reduce the prison population, “although it is the right thing to do”.

In terms of parliament, it is surely the job of the government (of whatever persuasion) to present arguments and evidence sufficient to convince both houses that a different approach must be taken (as occurred in the 1960s when the issue of capital punishment was finally disposed of). And in terms of the public, successive British Crime Surveys have indicated the desire by the public for effective sanctions that promote desistance rather than the kneejerk reaction of punishment by almost automatic incarceration.

A recent prison sentence for running part of the London marathon with a competitor’s entry number (Imposter jailed for use of marathon runner’s number, 22 June) tends to reduce any attempt at adult debate on the subject to farce.

Andy Stelman

Bishops Castle, Shropshire

I was fuming after reading your article about the injustice of sending a homeless man, Stanislaw Skupian, to prison for 13 weeks for “fraud by false representation” for finishing the London marathon with Jake Halliday’s lost number (It’s wrong to put the marathon ‘impostor’ in jail. Free him, 26 June). What a waste of money and time. I hope the Uxbridge magistrates and London Marathon’s chief executive, Nick Bitel, are ashamed. Nothing could damage the marathon’s reputation, it is too big for that.

Skupian could have had my number too, to help highlight the injustice of homelessness in this country. Strictly speaking, though, it wasn’t my number to give as I was running – and raised a substantial amount – for the Mothers’ Union organisation.

Lesley Parratt

Marske-by-the-Sea, North Yorkshire

Vicky Pryce is right (Locking up women for minor crimes helps nobody, 28 June). The sentencing regime in this country is Dickensian. Far too many people are imprisoned who have mental health problems or addictions. It is appalling that childhood abuse, poverty and prejudice are still major contributing factors in why people commit crimes.

Once people are incarcerated, they receive little of the help that they so desperately need. On release there is no effective support in place to reintegrate them into society. It is unsurprising that the recidivist rate is high and the prison gate is a revolving door. There are many measures the government could introduce to help bridge the gap between prison and society. It needs to look beyond the establishment for advice and direction in order to drag the penal system from the Victorian era into the 21st century.

James Keeley

Barrister, The 36 Group, London

Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

Topics