Justice Committee

Press notice No. 39 of Session 2007-08

03 July 2008 / For Immediate Release


Justice Committee inquiry and e-forum asking how £5 billion cost of prisons and probation could be better spent

The House of Commons Justice Committee is now midway through an e-consultation asking how much people know about prison and probation services and how they work, and whether they think the £5 billion estimated cost of prisons and probation every year could be spent in a better way to reduce crime and save the massive further costs of re-offending to our economy and our society.

The consultation at http://forums.parliament.uk/prisoncosts has so far been receiving a range of responses, among them from reformed offenders suggesting things that had worked for them, including young people with experience of crime among their peer group or in their community. Some have suggested the idea that bringing in targets and financial incentives for the private firms that run some prisons could bring down re-offending rates, while others think the Government should end the use of "private prisons".

Today the Esm©e Fairbairn Foundation publishes a major report on "credible alternative measures" to prison, and the Commission set up to examine Scotland's use of prison in the 21st Century suggested this week that Scotland must set a target to drive down its prison population if prison is to be effective. On Monday this week the Prison Reform Trust suggested that if local authorities were responsible for the cost of detention of juveniles from their area, it would give them a greater incentive to prevent offending and offer "robust alternatives to custody".

Public opinion often seems to support the idea of longer sentences for certain crimes. But the evidence shows that for most people, that £5 billion spent on prison and probation€”about £32,000 per person a year to keep them in prison€”just isn't working. The Government has just launched its own consultation asking people how they think we should best sentence offenders ('Rehabilitation versus punishment€”judge for yourself'), but has already committed another £1.3 billion to building three new "titan" prisons to house the record, expanding, prison population. With re-offending rates after prison ranging from 40% to almost 80%, the Committee is querying what effect more, bigger prisons can have. Will the new prisons be titan, or titanic?

Justice Committee Chairman Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith said: "The facts on the effects of prison make unhappy reading€”latest figures show that, after serving their sentence, 45% of violent offenders go on to commit more crimes, and in the case of burglary and theft offences that rises to well over 70%. And those new offences cost the public further vast amounts of money. So are we getting value for money for that £5 billion? Could it be better spent some other way that would reduce crime and save more of the wider social and economic costs of crime?"

Committee Member Rt Hon Alun Michael , a participant in the e-consultation, said : "The prison population is likely to reach about 100,000 in 6 years and will cost an estimated extra £900m per year to run. The Government is currently asking for views on the development of 3 large new prisons, known as Titans, which will provide a lot more prison spaces but will cost at least £350m each to build. The Committee is inviting views on whether these new prisons should be developed, as well as how they should be developed if they go ahead. We want people to tell us if they think prison building is the best way money can be invested in a criminal justice system for the future. What changes would they make to long-term investment plans with a view to reduce re-offending?"

The Committee is holding an inquiry into "Justice Reinvestment", an idea being trialled with some success in crime-hit communities in the United States and at the first stage of pilots in Britain (in London and Gateshead). Can money spent in the criminal justice system instead be "reinvested" in mental health services, drug treatment, education, community services€”with greater effect in reducing crime?

The online forum is asking what people think might work better than prison. At the core of this major area of policy and spending there is a lack of hard evidence about the cost benefit of prison sentences, and also about what works most economically to prevent crime. The Committee wants to hear from more people who have experience of crime in their communities and what would work to stop it, or who have seen crime reduction programmes that they think really work.

They would like to hear from victims of crime-do they think that prison is making sure that more people do not suffer what they have suffered? They'd also like to hear from offenders themselves about what has worked or they think would work to stop them committing more crimes. What is the one thing that works in your area to reduce re-offending and crime? How would YOU spend that £5 billion better?

The online consultation continues until mid July at http://forums.parliament.uk/prisoncosts

The public's input to the forum will feed directly into the recommendations the Committee makes to the Government. As with all Committee inquiries, the Government then has to respond to those recommendations.

1. For media inquiries and bids please contact Jessica Bridges Palmer (020 7219 0724) email: bridgespalmerj@parliament.uk

2. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP (Chairman), Mr David Heath MP, Siân James MP, Daniel Kawczynski MP, Jessica Morden MP, Julie Morgan MP, Rt Hon Alun Michael MP, Robert Neill MP, Dr Nick Palmer MP, Linda Riordan MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Mr Andrew Turner MP, Mr Andrew Tyrie MP and Dr Alan Whitehead MP

3. The transcripts of previous evidence sessions for the Committee’s inquiry into Justice Reinvestment can be found at on the Committee's website at www.parliament.uk/justicecom

Further Information:
Media Enquiries: Jessica Bridges Palmer (020 7219 0724) email: bridgespalmerj@parliament.uk; Clare Mills (07795 662742);

Specific Committee Information: Tel 020 7219 8196/ 8198, email: justicecom@parliament.uk

Committee Website: www.parliament.uk/justicecom

Watch committees and parliamentary debates online: www.parliamentlive.tv

Select Committee Calendar: www.parliament.uk/what_s_on/hoc_news3.cfm

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