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Do the courts work?

Nick Robinson | 11:46 UK time, Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Ken Clarke says that the debate between himself and Michael Howard about whether prison works is in the past and about the past. It seems to me that the real debate about the future is whether court works.

Ken Clarke

 

Michael Howard was the first of a string of home secretaries - Tory and Labour - who effectively said that the courts could not be trusted to mete out justice in a way that would produce public confidence in the criminal justice system.

So he and his successors passed a series of laws to hem judges in. Mr Clarke now says that only the courts - not politicians, the public or, indeed, media headlines - can decide the appropriate sentence in particular cases.

Thus today's sentencing Green Paper for England and Wales will limit the use of so-called "indeterminate sentences", which were created under Tony Blair to ensure that certain prisoners had no fixed release date and had to meet certain conditions before leaving prison.

Currently, I'm told, there are 6,000 such prisoners and a long backlog of case reviews means that they're only being released at a rate of 5% per year. Ken Clarke will propose speeding that up and limiting indeterminate sentences to those serving more than 10 years.

On knife crime, as I reported yesterday, Mr Clarke wants to leave it to judges to decide whether imprisonment is the best response; his party's manifesto had made it clear that judges would be told what to do.

After behind-the-scenes haggling between the Justice Department and No 10, the Green Paper will say that anyone who "commits a crime using a knife" can expect to be sent to prison: a subtle but significant change from the manifesto line that anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence.

Not, in other words, those caught in possession of a knife. What's more, the Green Paper will say that juveniles caught carrying a knife should face "serious consequences" - what those will be is less clear.

This debate about whether to trust judges goes beyond the issue of sentencing. It's at the heart of the agonised debate in Whitehall about the future of control orders and Tory angst about the abandonment of their promise to re-write the Human Rights Act.

Ken Clarke and Michael Howard are both lawyers - but one trusts the judges and the other doesn't.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    But Nick none of this explains why the Coalition are doing a U-turn on their election promises.

    - The Tories on crime

    - The Lib Dems on university fees.

    This is not a debate about whether prison works it is about reducing government expenditure. The simple fact is we can no longer afford to lock so many people up. And thee reason for beating up this debate now is to attempt to deflect attention from other issues.

    I do find it troubling that the BBC's Political Editor appears determined to ignore the major political story of the week - the vote on university fees and the mess of the Coalition policy (does not apply in Scotland or if your Welsh, inconsistent with LibDems "pledge"; LibDems flip floppig all over the place; Labour still unsure of how to respond and David Davis voting against).

    Why is it being ignored?

    1. Is it because Nick does not think it is important?

    2. Is it because the BBC has asked Nick to play down the fees debate?

    3. Is it because the Number 10 'spinners' have asked the BBC to play down the fees debate?

    I am not sure which option I find more disturbing.

  • Comment number 2.

    I do not trust Judges and from my dealings with the Family Courts I trust them evenless to make the correct decisions

  • Comment number 3.

    Previously I've tended to take the daily tory fiascos as something of a laughing matter.

    This is no joke.

    IPP sentences are for people who are DANGEROUS but the crime they are in court for TODAY does not allow a life sentence. Many of them have a string of convictions or multiple offences. These may be sex crimes, including child sex crimes. The situation regards their review and release certainly needs fixing but the basic idea of the sentence is a huge boon to the honest citizens of the UK - and their children.

    For anyone to be messing with this to save - actually quite small amounts - of money is appalling.

    This man is not fit for office.

  • Comment number 4.

    Clegg reneges on tuition fees mainfesto promise
    Clarke reneges on knife crime manifesto promise

    I hope and trust that Cable doesn't renege on his commitment to "Strictly Come Dancing".

    Seems to be quite a week for politicians with surnames, real or mispronounced, starting with the letter "C". QED QI?

  • Comment number 5.

    It is suprising how quickly political committments can be forgotten in favour of economics.

    I have a lot of respect for Ken Clark and the Conservative's stand on law and order (I'm old enough to remember 'short sharp shock' policy during the Thatcher era), however this U-turn is more about money than policy.

    Ken Clark has to reduce the prison population because it is costing the country too much. We know about the merry-go-round of offenders in and out of prison; we know that prison doesn't work for the majority; we know that prisons are only there to protect the public, not to rehabilitate.

    So why the pretence.

    No govenment has ever come up with a successful policy for the prison service - so why bother.

    We may as well just save a few quid.

  • Comment number 6.

    The courts don`t work because criminals have their sentence automatically reduced .

  • Comment number 7.

    Their is of course the other problem nick, in that because of the mail, and the sun etc so much fever is whipped up over prisoners releasing criminals early or any differences in similar crimes and their punishments that any real reform is impossible to get through as politicians are terrified that someone will shout that they're being to soft on the criminals.

    I struggle with it... I truely believe that the media should be completely free to report what they want (as long as they can back it up with evidence, however I despair that certain factions have so much sway and power that it can effectivly cripple our legal and political system. Sadly I have no suggestions on how it can be solved, anyone here have any ideas?

  • Comment number 8.

    Ken Clarke's starting point is that what we have at present doesn't work well which is correct. So we should permit him time and space to see if he can improve matters. We ought to be able to make the judicial system function properly without political interference.

  • Comment number 9.

    Nick said "Currently, I'm told, there are 6,000 such prisoners and a long backlog of case reviews means that they're only being released at a rate of 5% per year. Ken Clarke will propose speeding that up and limiting indeterminate sentences to those serving more than 10 years".
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    So that’s quite a few violent offenders off the list then.
    Speeding up the process will involve further investment of money & resources that we don’t have, so I wouldn’t be surprised if whatever criteria they use was toned down to save cash.

    Shorter sentences next to save cash I’ll be bound; I feel safer all ready LOL.

  • Comment number 10.

    Tis a very tricky issue for the Tories to resolve...

    Traditionally, their core voters (and supporting press) want the party to appear tough on crime, yet this doesn't fit with their ongoing drive for austerity, given the cost of keeping people in prison.

    Coupled with a general reduction in the number of police officers (25% in some areas), this paints a fairly bleak picture for many communities where knife-crime really is an issue (as opposed to those where it's a perceived threat, a la "Daily Mail Island").

  • Comment number 11.

    At the time Michael Howard introduced tougher prison sentences liberals swore blind it wouldn't work. The outcome has been the longest sustained period of reductions in crime levels for over 100 years. The same pattern was observed in New York soon after they introduced a zero tolerance approach.

    The evidence that prison works is overwhelming. Ken Clarke probably knows this but like all liberals he's ideologically committed to being soft on crime so the evidence is irrelevant.

    Just as well for the coaltion that Labour under Red Ed will be even softer on crime although these policies will still cost them dear.

  • Comment number 12.

    Jee whizz - I'm really glad we had those well useful leader debates before the election so we could see the main policies, pledges, promises of the main parties (except of course the SNP). The value of those is really coming into play now that the politicians put those promised policies into practice.

    Meanwhile in the real world.....

  • Comment number 13.

    #

    For once I agree with you.

  • Comment number 14.

    1 Cassandra

    I do find it troubling that the BBC's Political Editor appears determined to ignore the major political story of the week - the vote on university fees and the mess of the Coalition policy

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Time to change the record

  • Comment number 15.

    I dont know why Clarke is bothering to debate with Howard (a new league for penal retrenchment?) It makes both economic and humanitarian sense to avoid locking people up who have not committed serious crime and to try alternative ways of punishment and re-education. One answer is of course jobs but that is an answer to many ills in society and there is no case for focusing efforts to create jobs on the criminal but every prisoner should have an opportunity for work experience and coaching in the job market. Locking people up who lose a job should be avoided for mild offences. When the Tory red-necks get organised we will see how determined Clarke is.

  • Comment number 16.

    . At 12:59pm on 07 Dec 2010, ARHReading wrote:
    "Ken Clarke's starting point is that what we have at present doesn't work well which is correct. So we should permit him time and space to see if he can improve matters. We ought to be able to make the judicial system function properly without political interference"

    How can this happen with elected police commissioners who will express the preferences and prejudices of voters in their pattern of policing.? Or would you argue that the police are not properly part of the judicial system?

  • Comment number 17.

    I wonder whether elements of democracy should be introduced into the legal system.

    For example, all Supreme Court judges should be elected nationally for a limited term (candidates would of course have to possess appropriate professional qualifications). Salaries and pension entitlements should be in line with higher grades of the Civil Services, and full expense disclosure would be required.

    Local people should be able to petition for the removal of judges who did not meet the needs of their community.

    Jurors should rate the performance of the judge after each case, and such scores should be collated and published. Jurors should be able to recommend the sentencing level, which would not be binding but should be considered by the judge.

    We the people should have significantly more control over the legal system.

  • Comment number 18.

    Ken could start in making sure convicted mentally ill people get treatment instead of prison, but this will require cash as well.

    Remember the Tories “Care in the Community”?

    Oh dear, Ken’s opening a real can of worms here & it’s already back firing.

  • Comment number 19.

    Trusting the judges sounds oh so reasonable - and in a democratic society, should be the cornerstone of our judicial system. Trouble is, what happens the next time some horrendous crime is committed, and the Daily Mail et al are screaming for blood, and want the presiding judge to lock-up the convicted felon and throw away the key. Who will Ken Clarke tell the public to go and shout at if they are unhappy with the outcome?

    I realise part of Mr Cameron's new philosophy is self-reliance, and that government is not there to solve any and all problems that may come a citizen's way, but any attempt by any governemnt to wash its hands of responsibility for criminal justice is doomed to failure.

    In my opinion, there is only one way forward on the issue of "who is responsible for what" if we are stop the criminal justice system from remaining a political football to be kicked around any old how depending who is in No10 - we need a written constitution/covenant that clearly lays out who is repsonsible for what, and where redress can be sought in the event of a dispute. Crime, the consequences of crime, and its management is too important to be left solely in the hands of ephemeral politicians who are driven by headlines and polls, and not what is best for the country as a whole.

  • Comment number 20.

    The simple answer to this question is 'no' - the courts do not work.

    If the courts worked then Tony Blair would have been on trial for war crimes and Gordon Brown would have been locked away for bankrupting the UK economy.

    As it stands we have to listen to these two constantly rewriting history to explain how they believe it was rather than how we know it was - endlessly spun.

    it's a great time to be a tory...

  • Comment number 21.

    Jobsagoodin 11

    "The evidence that prison works is overwhelming. Ken Clarke probably knows this but like all liberals he's ideologically committed to being soft on crime so the evidence is irrelevant."

    It only works if you determine the criteria for success in advance.If you say to reduce crime,the reduction here from 1993 was associated with benign economic circumstances,was not replicated in Europe and may be reversed.

    If you take re-offending as your criteria then the policy of bunging people up is a miserable failure.PD Davis says the punishment of criminals satisfies people`s desire for revenge and provides a compelling story.What Mr.Clarke needs to do is change the story and if he succeeds then so will the criteria for success or failure.

    So the evidence that prison works is far from overwhelming,it depends on your criteria.

  • Comment number 22.

    @14 - AS71 revealed as an old blue rinse right wing tory. Only someone over the age of 50 would refer to a record and not a CD or MP3.

    The world must seem so confusing to you. Your beloved Tory Party now weak on crime, weak on defence and weak on the EU.

  • Comment number 23.

    Eugenics could be the answer but due to those nasty Nazis the subject is not popular with the wider pupil especially those of a I know best situation. 5% of the population causes 40% of crime. Prison working or not working is not going to stop or cut crime to those 5% who see crime as a life style past down the family tree.

  • Comment number 24.

    @cassandra

    Do not even mention U-turns. Remeber Tony Blair and our referendum on joining the EU? And regarding your comment 'Your beloved Tory Party now weak on crime, weak on defence and weak on the EU', your beloved Labour Party's policy on crime was 'lock them all up regardless of the offence, forget the cost we'll just borrow more'. Policy on defence,'what's defence?' Policy on the EU,'forget the referendum, we know what's best, where do we sign?'

  • Comment number 25.

    "22. At 2:20pm on 07 Dec 2010, Cassandra wrote:
    @14 - AS71 revealed as an old blue rinse right wing tory. Only someone over the age of 50 would refer to a record and not a CD or MP3."

    Not necessarily. 12" vinyl is still very popular with club DJs. Perhaps he's a club DJ?

  • Comment number 26.

    23. At 2:30pm on 07 Dec 2010, Arrrgh

    Prison working or not working is not going to stop or cut crime to those 5% who see crime as a life style past down the family tree.
    ============================

    Prison does stop them whilst they are inside the prison.

    That's where they are at the moment, clarke intends to let them out.

    Not very nice for victims when the criminal he releases is a burglar and he immediately goes back to burgling, but only a few will result in violence.

    Now clarke is intending to release people convicted of violent and/or sexual crimes, purely to save money. That's dangerous.

  • Comment number 27.

    People seem to forget that neither party won the election. AS the junior partner in a coalition the LibDems had the most power and so were able to veto some Tory policies but had to make some concessions themselves.
    And then of course, they did not appreciate the enormity of the mess that they were to inherit.

  • Comment number 28.

    bryhers 21

    'If you take re-offending as your criteria then the policy of bunging people up is a miserable failure'

    It's only a failure for short sentences. For longer sentences the rate of reoffending is much lower. The obvious solution is to have longer sentences for repeat offenders.

  • Comment number 29.

    23 - "5% of the population causes 40% of crime."

    I thought the figure was even more skewed. A smaller percentage commiting a larger proportion. Where did you get that figure from? Or is it a SagaStat?

  • Comment number 30.

    20. rockRobin7

    Hey Rocky, still banging out that same old 78 I see.
    Good on you I say, but you really need to keep up with the programme here.

    Gordon & chums have gone now & we are talking about BAT Man here – is this really what we voted for?
    Still, I can’t blame you; sometimes I lose track of which policy belongs to which party & with all of the Condems back flips I get dizzy spells myself.

    Of course the courts don’t work, but even if they did, we need suitable deterrents & punishments to help prevent crime & this costs cash.
    NuLabour were great at bashing out useless new laws to give work to their Lawyer buddies, but they couldn’t match them with deterrents let alone punishment.
    Time to review & scrap many of these useless laws I say – that will free up a few prison places for those who really need it.

  • Comment number 31.

    21 . "If you take re-offending as your criteria then the policy of bunging people up is a miserable failure."

    A 'miserable' failure compared to what? And what stats are you using to brand it a 'miserable failure'? For very serious crimes are you suggesting that there's an alternative to prison? What is it? If someone commits (say) a rape, is put inside for 8 years, comes out and commits another within 6 months does that mean we shouldn't have sent the guy to prison in the first place? Or that we should have sent him inside for 20 years instead?


    And for minor crimes, how many times must we read of someone getting his 21st mororing conviction (invariably including driving whilst banned) to then read the guy is sentenced to yet more community service...and his driving ban is extended.

    It's all very well saying that prison doesn't work but unless you have an alternative that you can show does, isn't it a meaningless staement?

  • Comment number 32.

    30 - "NuLabour were great at bashing out useless new laws"

    Credit where it's due. they weren't just good, they broke records. Wasn't it over 3,000 new laws they passed? Be interested to know how many of those have actually resulted in a conviction or if they sit, useless on the statute books.

  • Comment number 33.

    #1 @Cassandra,

    because Mr Robinson does not want embarrass the coalition.....

  • Comment number 34.

    A system that couldn't find a single criminal charge against the bankers after they defrauded individuals and governments is always subject to charges of politics. Perplexing problem that has made the concept of justice a struggle for most societies. There have always been two systems, one for the rich and influential and one for everybody else. In the fundamental structure of social organization little has changed in the past 2,000 years.

  • Comment number 35.

    Well, well. well. Whatever next? Tories supporting higher taxes? No, they're already doing that. Welcome to the return of Blair. Anything goes. Any promise can be broken. Any policy can be reversed. Just smile and ooze confidence and the suckers will be taken in.
    Poor old Dave. It worked for Tony for ten years but it's all unravelling before his eyes after only six months.

  • Comment number 36.

    22 Cassandra

    @14 - AS71 revealed as an old blue rinse right wing tory. Only someone over the age of 50 would refer to a record and not a CD or MP3.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Born in 1971 dear, so a few years left before I go for a blue rinse or comb-over.

    As for "old right wing tory", less of the "old" and less of the "tory".

    Otherwise a good description of me!

  • Comment number 37.

    The question isn't really whether we can trust the Courts, but whether we can trust politicians.

    It seems to me if politicians make false statements in their manifestos in order to win votes, but then just do whatever they like once elected, this amounts to fraud.

    Politicians who do not keep their promises are actually a threat to our whole democratic system.

  • Comment number 38.

    Does it matter what the courts do? Or the judges for that matter, you did mention the bugbear of the current criminal justice system, namely the Human Rights Act. Or as I prefer to call it, the Criminal Rights Act. Who benefits from it the most: criminals. Who take advantage of it either here or in Europe. What a farce. Victims' families can only look on in horror as murderers exploit the system to feather bed themselves. Prison only worked in the days before that imfamous legislation. Now there are all mod cons holiday camps, and woe betide any warder who infringes their nefarious legal aid supported 'rights'.
    Regards, etc.

  • Comment number 39.

    JH 66

    " Local people should be able to petition for the removal of judges who did not meet the needs of their community.

    Jurors should rate the performance of the judge after each case, and such scores should be collated and published. Jurors should be able to recommend the sentencing level, which would not be binding but should be considered by the judge.
    We the people should have significantly more control over the legal system."

    A strange idea for a conservative.You are not merely arguing for political control of the judiciary, but if I understand you correctly mob control if `we the people` control the judges.

    They could be like revolutionary courts,reflecting the prejudice and ignorance of those who shout loudest.This happened during the reign of terror in France and led to dictatorship.









  • Comment number 40.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 41.

    The authorities have failed the criminals. Re-education is the key yet its implementation in the UK is appalling. If more effort were put into training of criminals it would repay a hundredfold, but it's not to be a soft option for the criminal.
    Prison is a blunt instrument, there should be more imaginative punishments allied to correction.
    Judges and magistrates should have much wider discretion but be answerable for their decisions.

  • Comment number 42.

    28. At 3:11pm on 07 Dec 2010, jobsagoodin wrote:
    bryhers 21

    'If you take re-offending as your criteria then the policy of bunging people up is a miserable failure'

    It's only a failure for short sentences. For longer sentences the rate of reoffending is much lower. The obvious solution is to have longer sentences for repeat offenders.

    It`s the short sentence policy failure that Mr.Clarke is addressing and of course imprisoning people for longer is an option.The difficulty is it would create a vast gulag for the criminal section of the underclass,the inadequates,the cognitively challenged,the mentally ill,the addicted.

  • Comment number 43.

    Andy CS555
    It's all very well saying that prison doesn't work but unless you have an alternative that you can show does, isn't it a meaningless staement?"

    That is precisely the point of Mr.Clarke`s innovation.His evidence is partly the lower rate of offending by longer term prisoners because of greater exposure to remedial action.He is arguing this is also the case for short term recidivists where proper corrective treatment is available.

  • Comment number 44.

    "We the people should have significantly more control over the legal system"

    Good grief no. 'We the people' include dunderheads who don't know the difference between a paedophile and a paediatrician. You really want to give people like that power at a local level?

  • Comment number 45.

    42 "The difficulty is it would create a vast gulag for the criminal section of the underclass,the inadequates,the cognitively challenged,the mentally ill,the addicted."

    We do have safeguards against convicting those so mentally unwell that they can't tell right from wrong. As for the rest, I'm all for giving someone a second chance, a third even but there comes a point when someone has abused the trust and responsibilities of citizenship and prison as punishment has to be part of the process.

  • Comment number 46.

    In my experience, the single biggest deterrent to re-offending is responsibility. Serial offenders often quit their pattern of crime when they have dependent families whose lives are being wrecked. In short, many criminals - a minority of hardened cases aside - simply grow out of their behaviour. Another factor which correlates strongly with re-offending is illiteracy. About a third of our current prison population can't read. I'm not sure what the exact causality is here, but there's a link with exclusion at an early stage.

    Some of the comments here advocating a tougher line contain an interesting subtext: that society's treatment of criminals should be no better than the criminals' treatment of their victims. The problem with this view is that crime is, by definition, behaviour which society deems intolerable.

  • Comment number 47.

    43 - "That is precisely the point of Mr.Clarke`s innovation.His evidence is partly the lower rate of offending by longer term prisoners because of greater exposure to remedial action.He is arguing this is also the case for short term recidivists where proper corrective treatment is available."

    I'm not sure Clarke's proved anythhing. Depends, of course, on how you want to read the stats (we're in SagaStat country). You could look at re-offending rates and conclude that a minimum sentance for anything of 4 years is best. Then there's the measure of re-offending - a conviction within two two years of release. commit mass murder three years after release and your judged a successfully rehabilitated criminal, according to that stats.

    And looking at the specialist reforming units, they only take prisoners who have shown themselves, proved themselves, to be committed to 'going straight'. You'd expect such people to have a lower re-conviction rate. It ought to be nil! But it isn't and so there's no proof that going through the 'reforming' finsihing school has had any effect.

    OK, I accept I'm not putting forward any answers either. I just have an uneasy feeling that there's some out there who are just plain bad and we'd be better off in society if they were locked up for good.

  • Comment number 48.

    43 bryhers

    That is precisely the point of Mr.Clarke`s innovation.His evidence is partly the lower rate of offending by longer term prisoners because of greater exposure to remedial action.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Where is the evidence that it is remedial action rather than long sentences per se that reduce re-offending?

  • Comment number 49.

    AS71 @ 48

    If longer sentences were the only or main factor, you would not find drastically different rates of re-offending between different prisons. The fact that you do suggests the treatment of prisoners while inside does influence their behaviour after their release. Prison minister Crispin Blunt produced a report on this and I think it's high time James Naughtie invited him onto the Today Programme, don't you?

  • Comment number 50.

    43. At 3:59pm on 07 Dec 2010, bryhers wrote:
    That is precisely the point of Mr.Clarke`s innovation.His evidence is partly the lower rate of offending by longer term prisoners because of greater exposure to remedial action.
    ========================

    Sounds like we should be keeping the short sentence ones in for longer!



    (The ones with long sentences offend less because they are so much older when they are released - peak age of offending is 18 years.)

  • Comment number 51.

    49 - About that report.......

    "MoJ statisticians warn against creating a prison performance league table and argue that the mix of prisoner types in each jail determines the reconviction rate."

    yes, you have to be careful not to draw the wrong conclusions.

  • Comment number 52.

    46 - "In short, many criminals - a minority of hardened cases aside - simply grow out of their behaviour."

    I tend to agree. Keep teenagers who are convicted inside until their 50th birthday. They should have grown up a bit by then.

  • Comment number 53.

    forgottenUKcitizen..

    yep, sorry, I am still abgning thesame old drum because the same old drum has the same pleasing beat; newlabour screwed us.

    On the subject of Clarke, I'm ambivalent except to say that, yet again, the newlabour way was to grab the headlines with 'tougher sentences' 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of criem' regardless of what effect their policy would have down the line. Effectively, i agree with you, it probably needs a review.

    More important is the fact that someone who speaks without partiality has a good word to asy abotu Cameron;

    http://www.newstatesman.com/ideas/2010/06/god-cameron-detractors

    and he said it in the newlabour bible....

    The economy is more important than banging up criminals and we have the right team for the job.

    it's a great time to be a tory...

  • Comment number 54.

    The reality is that savings have to be made; thanks Labour!

    However, couldn't we forcibly deport all foreigners in our jails (heard this was 1 in 6?), and cut back on luxury costs like TV's etc. Prison is so comfortable these days, there must be some money to be saved. Prison has become so pleasant it's lost all deterrent effect.

    Just as importantly, look what Balls and Labour did to our education system: our kids have slipped massively down the international rankings despite vast amounts of money, tinkering and focus on so-called improvements.

    Labour were a disaster for this country in every way; it's going to be a very long, hard and unpleasant slog to get back to where we need to be.

    Balls should resign from the Shadow Cabinet: clearly he was thoroughly incompetent and useless in office. The more we find out what really happened under Labour, the more frightening it becomes.

  • Comment number 55.

    49. At 4:57pm on 07 Dec 2010, pdavies65 wrote:

    Prison minister Crispin Blunt produced a report on this and I think it's high time James Naughtie invited him onto the Today Programme, don't you?

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Certainly do but don't tell the po-faced person that reported my 40. What's the world coming to when a man can't mention the size of his records - Bull Moose Jackson will be turning in his grave.

  • Comment number 56.

    11. At 1:27pm on 07 Dec 2010, jobsagoodin wrote:
    At the time Michael Howard introduced tougher prison sentences liberals swore blind it wouldn't work. The outcome has been the longest sustained period of reductions in crime levels for over 100 years. The same pattern was observed in New York soon after they introduced a zero tolerance approach.

    ===========================

    You should read Freakonomics - the argument about zero tolerance in New York working was examined but the authors came to a different conclusion.

    Based on the observation that aside from New York at the same time crime fell in most places in the US even where zero tolerance was not in use - it also continued to fall I think when the policy was relaxed and number of police was cut.
    The argumentation and data was quite compelling - the reason they ascribed made for uncomfortable reading.

  • Comment number 57.

    Nick

    "the Green Paper will say that anyone who "commits a crime using a knife" can expect to be sent to prison: a subtle but significant change from the manifesto line that anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence."

    The presumption only being that someone who commits a crime using a knife will be convicted of a knife crime?

    It's up to the judges allways has been and allways will be.

  • Comment number 58.

    "Prison is so comfortable these days ... so pleasant" - BJ @ 54

    Hi Blunt Jeremy,

    Would be insulting (of me) to suggest you're opining this having never been banged up yourself - we don't, after all, know each other's life stories on here - but usually one finds that's the case.

  • Comment number 59.

    56 Whistling Neil

    You should read Freakonomics - the argument about zero tolerance in New York working was examined but the authors came to a different conclusion.

    Based on the observation that aside from New York at the same time crime fell in most places in the US even where zero tolerance was not in use - it also continued to fall I think when the policy was relaxed and number of police was cut.
    The argumentation and data was quite compelling - the reason they ascribed made for uncomfortable reading.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Is this the idea that those states with the greatest increase in abortion had the largest reduction in crime because there were lower numbers of unemployable males than would have previously been the case?

  • Comment number 60.


    Saga - never insulting, just misguided! But none of us are perfect, least of all me. I voted for Blair (not Brown)! Have a good Christmas.

  • Comment number 61.

    Ken Clarke was the first minister to agree a 25% cut in his budget and knows that this can only be achieved by reducing prison numbers. three thousand less prisoners will not hit the target unless you cut probation and other services....but then who does the community sentence programmes? If the aim is to reduce crime then tories like rock robin need to accept that was one of blairs successes. We need to be honest, we have returned to the philosophy of Thatcher that rolls back the state and leaves people to fend for themselves. Rock Robin may feel it is a great time to be a tory, but he probably thought that when he was stepping over the homeless in doorways, watching kids go into derelict schools while the sick spent days on trollies in hospital corridors. At this rate he wont have long to wait till he can see it all again.

  • Comment number 62.

    Of course in reality Ken Clarke is just trying to save money. If they had money to burn, he would not be suggesting this. What is more important is the underlying reasons for high levels of crime. Crime is inextricably linked to inequality. Of course there are some crimes where this is not the case. But the majority of crime, especially “petty” crime is linked directly and is much higher in countries where monetary inequality is higher. You only have to type into google...inequality and crime and you will see countless, overwhelming research covering decades that comes to the same factual conclusion. For example, research was done in Sweden using county-level data for the period 1973–2000. Various measures of income inequality were used in evaluation. The results indicated that there is a statistically significant positive effect of the proportion of the population with an income below 10 percent of median income on the incidence of property crime.
    A link between income inequality and social cohesion is undeniable. In more equal societies, people are much more likely to trust each other, measures of social capital suggest greater community involvement, and homicide rates are consistently lower. One of the earliest writers to note the link between economic equality and social cohesion was Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America (1831). Much more recently the equality trust provided widely respected and detailed research on this subject.... http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/
    Some tory posters on here will either knit pick at any research or dismiss it without consideration. The research is overwhelming however. We only have to see that the USA has the highest prison population in the world. A country where the 400 richest Americans own more than the bottom 150 million Americans. Here in the UK we have one of the highest rates of incarceration in Western Europe, with Scotland close behind: In 2006 an average of 148 people in every 100,000 were in prison, just ahead of Scotland with 139 per 100,000. That statistic coincides nicely with the one that shows we have some of the worst monetary inequality stats in europe too.
    I don’t expect anything to improve from this tory led coalition. They are implementing some of the most draconian cuts this country has seen in decades and cuts that will disproportianately affect the poorest in society. Public services slashed. And they even had the audacity to employ one of the richest men in the country (a personal wealth of thousands of millions of pounds) as a spending/savings csar, while this man has avoiding paying millions of pounds in tax which would go towards essential public services needed most by those most in need.
    So in summary the Cons are only interested in saving money and making sure the elite, of which they are a part, get to keep as much as possible.

  • Comment number 63.

    Numbers in prison to be reduced by 3000. Sounds like a target to me. No, can't be. Targets are sooo Nu-Labour. Terrible things!
    You could call the Coalition clueless but why give them an excuse. Their policies so far are mostly a disaster. Beginning to make the last lot look coherent (and that's saying something!)

  • Comment number 64.

    Maybe the plan is a bit like the public sector job losses - achievable through natural wastage - just dont replace prisoners when they get released with other ones, and of course the odd one does the decent thing and shuffles off the old coil to help out too. That'll be it, with no need to perform contortions to avoid using that nasty word targets.

  • Comment number 65.

    #39 Bryhers wrote:
    "A strange idea for a conservative.You are not merely arguing for political control of the judiciary, but if I understand you correctly mob control if `we the people` control the judges."

    (also AndyC555 at #44)

    This is in part a response to the growth of judicial activism, whereby certain judgements have a significant political element. There is a concern, in US Republican circles, that this political element has a liberal bias.

    We could adopt the US appointment model for our Supreme Court, of course.

    In creating the UK Supreme Court Labour replaced the long-established system and, in my opinion, opened the door for future reformers (or even revolutionaries) to propose other systems.

    This is a complex issue. On the one hand judicial independence is important. On the other hand a judicial activism that refects the values of a minority of the people undermines consent for the rule of law.

    I used the word 'petition' earlier because I did not see 'the people' directly voting-off judges whose judgements they disagreed with.

    This issue directly feeds into any discussion of the role of supranational courts.

  • Comment number 66.

    48. At 4:21pm on 07 Dec 2010, AS71 wrote:
    43 bryhers

    That is precisely the point of Mr.Clarke`s innovation.His evidence is partly the lower rate of offending by longer term prisoners because of greater exposure to remedial action.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    "Where is the evidence that it is remedial action rather than long sentences per se that reduce re-offending?"

    There is no systematic programme to reduce re-offending among short term prisoners and this is what Mr.Clarke wants to introduce.As PD Davis points out,re-offending rates differ between prisons and this variation needs careful analysis.If it is due to differences in rehabilitation this promises a way forward.

  • Comment number 67.

    JH 66 65

    Judicial activism,-the idea that justice is informed by political ideology is probably right.Common law is made and intepreted and along with statute law forms the legal system.

    Common law,the jury system and habeas corpus are the pillars on which individual liberty rests.

    Freedom to intepret the law is the price we pay for an organic legal system, where the punishment fits the individual rather than the crime, instead of a rigid tariff applied to a menu of offences.

    The kind of judicial populism you propose would remove constitutional barriers between judges and the ignorance of the mob.Elected police commissioners already blur the line between politics and the law,your proposal would obliterate it.The freedom of judges to intepret law, even if we do not agree with it, is the price we pay for an independent judiciary.

  • Comment number 68.

    I feel fairly certain that you will never stop the career criminal re-offending, however you stand a good chance of stopping a first time offender -and I mean the very first offence- re-offending if you make a prison sentence the first option rather than the last.

    Now this won't work if you put the new offender into the present prison system because within the week they will have aquired a drug habit and several ideas for a criminal lifestyle. What would be needed would be a new prison that will only house new offenders, a strict tough regime, no luxuries, no drugs no visits etc. etc.

    I think the major problem we have now is a first prison sentence is only imposed after many many court appearances, by which time the offender is well set on their life of crime. Prison for them then, is a place to network and learn new tricks.

    Be tough, very tough, and then we might see less people re-offending.

  • Comment number 69.

    The most effective way to reduce crime has nothing to do with criminals.

    It has nothing to do with the legal system, the number of prisoners, prison regime or sentencing policy.

    It has nothing to do with rehabilitation, the probation service or policing.

    Puzzled?

    Ask yourself a simple question - where do most criminals come from?

    Are the middle class spoilt brats? Some.

    Greedy rich kids? A few.

    Are they from poor backgrounds? Mostly.

    From two parent families? Mostly not.

    Beginning to see a glimmer of statistical probability?

    The reality is that most criminals are male and come from poor single-mother families.

    In the USA when abortion and contraception were liberalised, the birth rate in this group fell sharply - and 14-16 years' later, the crime rate also began to fall - and as this sharp dip in that element of the population worked its way another and another year forward, the crime rate continued to fall simply because there were a lot less boys being born who were the most likely to become criminals.

    Take more recent experience in the UK - there has been a major drive to reduce teenage pregnancy and a major drive to get single mums back into work, plus improved welfare benefits for low income households.

    The uncomfortable truth is that statistically most habitual criminals are criminals because of the accident of their birth - and the most effective policy interventions to reduce crime and its cost to society are those that either prevent their mothers from having them in the first place, or policies that improve the lot of their mothers so that they have greater life chances other than crime - a good school helps too.

    Charles Dickens understood this relationship - the Artful Dodger, Bill Sykes, Oliver Twist - all had mothers who were all single parents fallen on hard times.

    The statistics don't lie - that is the role of the senior policemen and the politicians in claiming they are "cracking down on crime" - it's simply not true that shutting the door after the horse has bolted in anyway affects how and where it runs afterwards.

    Ken Clarke may be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons - but the man you really need to watch is Ian Duncan Smith - taking away resources from poor single mothers, removing incentives or the chance to work and so being able to afford a life other than simply having enough children on their own to harvest higher benefits will produce a spike in the birth rate - and the crime stats will go back up -even if it takes a decade to happen.

    So stop demanding longer sentences or tougher prisons to deter - neither has any impact on the crime statistics - by the time the sons of poor single mothers with no prospect of a decent, legal life have found their career path, it's too late to change the trajectory of their lives with the stick.

  • Comment number 70.

    Judges are the most notorious vested interest group of all in England.

    Their enormous power and influence puts them above any other cohort in our society.

    Judges rigged it for themselves to be excluded from any limits on pension provision in recent legislation.

    Judges are almost impossible to sack.

    Judges have 'grace and favour' benefits that even MP's cannot obtain.

    Judges are literally a law unto themselves.

    It follows that judges need to be more accountable to the society they serve, rather than society serving judges, so the next step is to for the people to elect judges for a fixed period upon which they may stand for re-election, where their records may be evaluated by the public and judged accordingly.

    That will sort the wheat from the chaff.

  • Comment number 71.

    "Have a good Christmas" - jeremy @ 60

    Why thank you. And you. Think you're being a bit reactionary on this matter, though. Let's be more positive.

    The crime is committed and a suspect apprehended. The police, acting impeccably at all times, amass sufficient evidence to charge. The CPS take a hard, unbiased look at the prosecution case and they give the nod. The accused – as we must now refer to him – hires the best defence lawyer he can afford. If he can’t afford it, a good one steps in and does it free gratis. Also pro bono. Why? Why does she do this? Idealism. Because she believes everyone deserves a capable and professional defence. The accused is bailed and thus able to enjoy their life pre-trial. Innocent until proved guilty, after all. When the case does come to court – as it does without undue delay – it proceeds swiftly and in an atmosphere of hushed calm and reverence for the truth. The opposing lawyers present their evidence in a charismatic but not flashy manner – the case for the prosecution, the defence rebuttal – in front of a jury comprised of 12 intelligent, compassionate but tough minded individuals. Typical members of the public, in other words. And at the end, a verdict. If there’s reasonable doubt the guy did it, they acquit. He walks and walks tall. Out of the dock and back to his family and friends with not a stain on his character. If it’s clear he did do it – the bad thing – the jury convicts him. “Guilty M’Lord” says the foreman, gravely and with not an iota of pleasure. Whereby M’Lord, the Judge, a tremendously wise old character, totally free of political slant or interference ... the Judge hands down a sentence which is perfect for these particular circumstances; for this criminal/crime combination. He gets it absolutely right. All is well with the world.

    This is how we do it in Hampstead.

  • Comment number 72.

    JC @ 70 wrote:
    It follows that judges need to be more accountable to the society they serve, rather than society serving judges, so the next step is to for the people to elect judges for a fixed period upon which they may stand for re-election, where their records may be evaluated by the public and judged accordingly.


    >>

    Imagine you are standing for election as a judge for the first time, competing against other hopefuls. What kind of manifesto might you put forward to the public? Bearing in mind that you are expected to judge every individual case on its merits.


  • Comment number 73.

    #71 Sagamix wrote:

    "The crime is committed and a suspect apprehended."

    An alternative version:

    I am accused of a crime in Bulgaria, a country I have never visited. The offence is not a crime under UK law. A European Arrest Warrent is filled out correctly. I am the name on it, and the alleged offense is an extraditable offense. It is no longer relevant that no prima facie evidence has been presented to the UK court.

    I am transferred to Bulgaria. The Bulgarian legal system does not have the same safeguards as the UK and I am convicted without understanding the trial. I am sentenced to 20 years in a Bulgarian prison. A few other unfortunate things happen to me.

    This is how we do it in the European Union.

  • Comment number 74.

    Mmm (jh @ 73), the ideal is not always attained, very true. Let's see how we "do it" with Julian Assange, the wikileaks guy. Looks a bit like Andy Warhol to my eye.

    (hey I hope that was a rhetorical first person narrative there, John).

  • Comment number 75.

    59. At 5:59pm on 07 Dec 2010, AS71 wrote:
    56 Whistling Neil

    You should read Freakonomics - the argument about zero tolerance in New York working was examined but the authors came to a different conclusion.

    Based on the observation that aside from New York at the same time crime fell in most places in the US even where zero tolerance was not in use - it also continued to fall I think when the policy was relaxed and number of police was cut.
    The argumentation and data was quite compelling - the reason they ascribed made for uncomfortable reading.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Is this the idea that those states with the greatest increase in abortion had the largest reduction in crime because there were lower numbers of unemployable males than would have previously been the case?

    ========================

    Indeed it was. Seemed quite well reasoned as an argumentation and had numbers which always is to be preffered.

  • Comment number 76.

    "What is more important is the underlying reasons for high levels of crime. Crime is inextricably linked to inequality."

    Oh jesus, cant you get a mind of your own for once and quit hammering that discredited rag? I knew you were going to come out with this, just knew it.

  • Comment number 77.

    #69 Richard,

    Very well put and interesting reading. There is quite a lot of evidence that supports the fact that the path to a life in crime starts at an early age, and let's face it the majority of young criminals are from single parent families on very low incomes or state support

    How to prevent them starting down the path is a difficult question. I do believe that the short sharp shock may work better. As pointed out generally a first sentence will only occur after many many court visits and community orders. This process removes all faith in the justice system - anyone who has been through the court process will tell you it's mostly a joke

    Everyone knows what story to tell when they go in to get a joke sentence. Plaintiffs often stand around swapping excuses before appearances, and also joking about how easy it is to fool a judge and sway their decision (I have seen and heard this outside courts) I do think that a first (serious) offense should result in incarceration to a 'first offenders' prison, not a normal jail but specifically one to try and rehabilitate younger criminals before they really turn a life of crime.

    Prevention is better done early on rather than later

 

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