Actually, prison can work
I was only 11 years old when Michael Howard declared that ‘prison works’ in 1993. I had little interest in anything other than hockey and who was going to be on Top of the Pops so you can imagine where this revelation registered on my radar.
My interests and priorities have expanded slightly since then so I pay attention when the Justice Secretary describes current prison numbers as ‘astonishing… impossible and ridiculous,’ and lambasted the revolving door of crime.
I support Clarke’s calls for a more sparing use of prison, especially if that means less use of short term sentences that do little more than exacerbate already difficult circumstances for people. But it should be remembered that, done properly, prison offers an opportunity to provide intensive interventions that address offending behaviours and the reasons for those behaviours. Those interventions can begin to develop the foundations needed to support long term recovery from substance misuse problems or the dismantling of sometimes deeply entrenched cycles of criminal behaviour. This is certainly the overarching message in the RSA Prison Learning Report published earlier this year which laid out the principles for prison reform.
It is encouraging to hear the support of new initiatives such as the Social Impact Bond pilot in HMP Peterborough which will be seeking to develop some these intensive interventions in line with the ‘payment by results’ model Clarke mentioned. I met with those leading the pilot yesterday and am excited by its possibilities not least as Peterborough prison will be the site of the RSA’s Recovery Capital Project being launched on the 19th July.
Let’s hope this is the new era of radical penal reform that will seek to do more than save the pennies.