What are prisons for?

Hundreds of this summer's rioters and looters have gone through the courts now and many of them are having time to reflect on their actions behind bars. But will it make any difference? The Justice Secretary Ken Clarke thinks not. According to his figures three quarters of those aged 18 or over who were charged with riot offences already had a conviction. He says they're part of a criminal class that goes through the revolving doors of the justice system with no discernible effect. Our penal system is broken, according to Mr Clarke. Its record in preventing re-offending is dreadful but our prisons are bursting at the seams. We've got one of the highest per capita prison populations in Europe, but have we lost sight of what prison is for? Have we just been too happy to punish people; to slam the cell door shut without any thought of the possibility of reform or rehabilitation? In the wake of the riots, is all the talk of feral and criminal underclasses a reflection of the fact that as a society we have lost the idea that no one is beyond redemption? Or is it simply that fact that people aren't deterred from committing crime because our penal system isn't tough enough on them? Prisons are there to protect the public from dangerous people and when criminals are looked up for longer they inevitably commit less crime. What are prisons for?

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips, Michael Portillo and Matthew Taylor.

David Fraser, former senior probation officer and author of the book "A land fit for Criminals: An Insider's View of Crime"
Rob Owen, Chief Executive, St Giles Trust
David Green, Director of CIVITAS - Institute for Study of Civil Society and author of the book 'Crime and Civil Society: Can We Become a More Law-Abiding People?'
Angie Hobbs, Associate Professor in Philosophy, University of Warwick and the UK's First Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy

Producer: Phil Pegum.

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45 minutes

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Wed 7 Sep 2011 20:00