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 878.

    Depriving poor people of their benefits will create more criminals than it will help in rehabilitating anyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 877.

    More waffle from dave as he trys to blow away bad news
    with words like inteligent tough
    this speech is to try and restore last weeks weak lable he got on Andrew Mitchell nothing more .

  • rate this

    Comment number 876.

    For me education (or rather the lack of) is one of the main causes of much criminal behaviour.

    Knowledge is one of the main things that distinguishes us from animals.

    Youth who turn their noses up at eductaion are fools to themselves.

    Prisons should be "academies" where those sentenced cannot leave until they have acheived a certain level of education (based on their inherent ability)

  • Comment number 875.

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

  • Comment number 874.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 873.

    Ernie 858 re me 846. 50 years ago as a child the rule was don't get into trouble and be back indoors before it's dark. I had a hard but wonderful childhood. How many kids now can that apply to thanks to bleeding hearts and sympathisers? Society has changed and not for the better. It isn't me with the weird ideas it's people like you..always willing to take away an individuals own responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 872.

    866. Halfhybrid

    "Sadly, this country's love of money means that money-related crime receives heftier & more frequent prison sentences"

    Well only if you are a pleb, patricians are free to do as they please. It is clear we are not all equal in the eyes of the law, some are more equal that others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 871.

    "A close friend is a probation officer and her caseload has tripled in the last 20 years. She would also tell you that in those 20 years, her cases have gone from 10% drug related to 90% drug related.
    She would also tell you that the number of people with mental health problems we imprison is a national disgrace."

    Having worked in HM Prisons for 30+ years I concur with every word .

  • rate this

    Comment number 870.

    Why don't we means test prison like we do elderly care? It's ridiculous that it's cheaper to spend your retirement inside jail, and you get cared for far better than in most sheltered accommodation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 869.

    Nobody is going to take you seriously whilst the Libor manipulators remain free Dave - you can't have one set of rules for the oligarchs and one set for the rest of society!

  • rate this

    Comment number 868.

    843. Ernie - a good point well made.

    The individual on this very thread who demanded basic human rights be revoked because a guy damaged his garden fence is a perfect example of where the 'victims pick the punishment' suggestion falls down stupendously. Emotive, subjective, asinine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 867.

    841. UncommonSense

    Your post makes no sense at all, how can you just go around eating tree's? Do you like the taste of bark?

    Perhaps you failed your reading curricular in school. What I said was, there is one law for the rich, and another for the working class bloke who does all the hard work. And never the twain shall meet.

    If we could all get away with eating tree's, we wouldn't need jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    Sadly, this country's love of money means that money-related crime receives heftier & more frequent prison sentences than crimes against the person. Perhaps we need to reassess our own values before we can think of changing the judicial system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 865.

    While he's at it, he should consider making prisoners work too.
    Peter D

  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    Thank you for your concern, and if needs be I've got BUPA to fall back on for any medical help I might require.

    Thank you for jumping on the bandwagon if you had paid any attention to my earlier posts they are 100% on topic.
    While it might not be blatantly obvious that I have some sympathy with the man for having an ill wife, I take arguement with his stance of her avoiding prison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 863.

    Charlie Brooker was on to something with Black mirror. Get the prisoners to ride electric generating exercise bikes for six hours a day. With the massive number of prisoners we have this could be a good source of green energy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    Politicians ignore experts in all other fields so why should this be any different? Career politicians know best after all.

    Consider everything that actually goes in to running a prison, it's no small task and requires thousands of jobs in itself. There are some very rich people making a lot of money from being paid to provide every daily needed of ~90,000 people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 861.

    Prison must work. He should have said - prisoners must do some work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.

    Surely our aspiration should be for ex-prisoners to become legitimate taxpayers? If the only ambition is not reoffending, our sights are set too low!

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.


    I can't help but notice you have a rather unpleasant and vindictive attitude to Charles's wife's condition. Mental health problems and bipolar disorder are common these days.
    To my mind you are sailing close to the point of being moderated. This board is a discussion about prisons and sentencing policy. Give them a break.


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