David Cameron: We must make prisons work for offenders


David Cameron: "Just being tough isn't a successful strategy in itself"

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There is no alternative to making "prisons work", David Cameron has said, insisting criminals can be punished and rehabilitated at the same time.

In a speech in London, he said the debate on crime and punishment had become too "black or white".

Serious offenders must be imprisoned, but jails must have a "positive impact" on inmates, he argued.

The PM has had a difficult few days, with Andrew Mitchell quitting as chief whip and confusion over energy policy.

In a long-planned speech to the Centre for Social Justice, Mr Cameron sought to regain the initiative by insisting crime was an issue that "matters to all of us" and rejected characterisations of his views from both the left and right of the political spectrum.

'Hoodie history'

He referred to comments he made while opposition leader in 2005, following which he was accused of wanting to "hug a hoodie".

Mr Cameron said: "For many people, I am associated with those three words, two of which begin with 'h' and one of which is hoodie... even though I never actually said it.

Start Quote

With the crime debate, people seem to want it black or white, 'lock 'em up or let 'em out, blame the criminal or blame society, 'be tough' or 'act soft”

End Quote David Cameron

"For others, I am the politician who has argued for tough punishment. So do I take a tough line on crime or a touchy-feely one?

"In no other debate do the issues get polarised like this... with the crime debate, people seem to want it black or white, 'lock 'em up' or 'let 'em out', blame the criminal or blame society, 'be tough' or 'act soft'."

Personal responsibility was at the heart of the criminal justice system, he stressed, meaning long prison sentences were the only "thinkable" punishment for certain serious offenders.

"This is what victims and society deserve... And the society bit matters. Retribution is not a dirty word; it is important to society that revulsion against crime is properly recognised, and acted on by the state on our behalf," he argued.

But echoing comments made by Tony Blair in the 1990s, Mr Cameron said the government must "think hard about dealing with the causes of crime" not just the results of crime.

This, he stressed, meant more emphasis on crime prevention and, at a time when budgets were being cut and prison numbers stretched, priority being given to reducing re-offending.

Critics have warned that Ken Clarke's replacement by Chris Grayling as justice secretary last month signalled a hardening of the approach on sentencing, but the prime minister said he was still as committed to a "rehabilitation revolution" for prisoners.

Rehabilitation revolution

Private firms and charities must be given an expanded role to work with all prisoners, not just those in prison for a year or more, he said, while the model of payments by results for such firms had to be accelerated.

"I say let's use that time we have got these people inside to have a proper positive impact on them... it is not a case of 'prison works' or 'prison does not work' - we need to make prison work better.

"And once people are on the outside, let's stick with them, and give then proper support."

Mr Grayling told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We have to do this differently. We have got people coming back out onto the streets after prison who are as likely to reoffend again as not to reoffend.

"The benefit of a payment-by-results system is it forces the organisations working with you to look for what really does work because they don't get paid unless they do."

Plans were announced on Sunday to introduce a new offence of possessing firearms with an intention to supply them to others, carrying a maximum life sentence, designed to target "middle men" who import and traffic weapons for gangs.

Labour said the coalition had cut police numbers and budgets, circumscribed judges and "let victims down".

"If the government's going to make a serious announcement this week he (David Cameron) should explain why he's done nothing for the last 29 months and he's got to explain how these policies are going to be paid for," said shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan.

Rhodri Davies, policy manager of the Charities Aid Foundation, said: "The prime minister is right that payment-by-results contracts have potential to help charities use their expertise to tackle intractable social problems such as reoffending.

"But ministers need to improve the way these contracts are designed so charities are not simply squeezed out in favour of large private sector providers."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 938.

    Easy way, legalise all drugs ina controlled manner, this obviously reduces the amount of drug related crime but also those associated (gang crime, theft etc)

  • rate this

    Comment number 937.

    Another much heralded build-up to yet more vacuous soundbites and platitudes, that mean little and achieve less ! Re-offending costs society fortunes every year, yet a mere fraction of that could be spent to re-integrate offenders into our society rather than marginalising them, and on a fast-track straight back to custody, costing us even more ! No brave politicians, so it wont change soon !

  • rate this

    Comment number 936.

    I recently visited Wakefield prison.

    I could not see a red coat or holiday rep anywhere.

    I think I may have been lied to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 935.

    1. Damaged parents produce damaged children (ad infinitum).

    2. Damaged people commit crime.

    3. Most of the damage is done during the first few years of life.

    4. Social workers still think it's best to leave children with damaged parents.

    5. Good parents struggle to adopt.

    Mad world.

  • rate this

    Comment number 934.

    This is just antoerh attack on the poor.

    When they introduce criminal law for white-collar crime against wholesale economic vandalism, I might actually sit up and take notice and vote for them but until such a time, I see any pittiful announcements as a direct attack on low to medium paid people.

  • Comment number 933.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 932.

    Privatised prisons are a horrible idea. It becomes an industry, and one with an interest in locking people up. In the US it went as far as kickbacks to judges for everyone they sent down.

    We can learn a lot from America, but not always as a positive example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 931.

    I always think anyone taking or dealing opiates should have triple the sentences because so much money ends up in Afghanistan, funds terror and cost soldier's lives. If you take on a "knock-on" view Heroin users have cost the UK more money and lives than any other group of addicts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 930.


    "too many bad parents claim their children have ADHD"

    ""Scientific research has found there is a strong genetic link in ADHD. It is not a disorder that is learnt or passed on socially."

    I googled it, might be a bit complicated for you.


    Cr@p argument and simplistic, also demonstrates your ignorance regarding mental illness.

  • Comment number 929.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 928.

    Psychologists seem to agree that there is no significant evidence that punishment works as a deterrent for serious crimes and that the majority of people respond negatively to punishment (meaning it makes them more likely to rebel). I see prison as a place to put others for our protection and theirs. If society must 'punish' per se, then why is prison the most appropriate punishment?

  • rate this

    Comment number 927.

    So, lets get this right. Today, a known hooligan who has already been banned from every football ground in the country was jailed for 4 months for running onto a football pitch and attacking a player. Yet the man who swam in the Thames & disrupted the boat race got 6 months.

    Brilliant, David. Your new policy is clearly off to a flying start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 926.

    I think eventually the prisons will be privatized. This is happening in the US and it is 'big business'.

    Be that as it may, I would think child molesters should never be allowed out into the community. Protecting children should trump the so called rights of a molester but the Justice system seems to act otherwise.

    Rehabilitation....laughable - its a revolving door.

  • rate this

    Comment number 925.

    All these ideas are great, but because of huge cutbacks to the staffing levels in the police, prison and the probation service who is going to oversee it all? And one could argue the the cutbacks may have had and effect on the problem in the first place.

  • Comment number 924.

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

  • Comment number 923.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 922.

    It seems that anyone advocating a harder prison life on here, is being voted down. Well to those who feel it appropriate to say against those suggesting a more strict regime, may I suggest you visit Cardiff right now......

  • rate this

    Comment number 921.

    My dear old thing, please don't forget we are talking about someone who has been found guilty in a court of law. If you think this mental illness is as serious as you say it is, then how can she be capable of committing fraud? An act which I can only imagine takes a great deal of planning. If she has the mental capacity to plan that, she is well enough to be sent to prison. Thats My arguement

  • rate this

    Comment number 920.

    You talk about Prison as the end game, when it is only meant as a medium to achieve two things, punishment and rehabilitation.
    I don't argue that my wife shouldn't be punished, but that the government uses Prison as a catchall cop out for sentencing, that if used in all cases for punishment will in some cases have an extreme detrimental effect on the ability of the criminal to rehabilitate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 919.

    @910 JoyanBlu "Why do we always have to have a rationale and reason for everything."

    Because that's how we build ourselves a better society? If we act without rationale or reason what right have we got to expect results?

    I'd feel safe knowing we do everything possible to prevent people becoming victims of crime. The leap you make is that harsh punishment will achieve this. This is false.


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