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The Arguments of some prison reformers do not stand up to even the mildest scrutiny.

This article is a critique of some arguments presented by three prison reformers in a BBC report published today which explored the current prison overcrowding crisis(link).

Needless to say, the building of more prisons did not feature highly in the recommendations of the prison reformers.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“The start of the rise in prison numbers certainly coincided with the murder of the toddler James Bulger by two older boys in February 1993.”
"When you get high-profile and very disturbing cases of that kind you can get a distorted reaction and punishment levels can rise," says Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust.
And it has similarly been suggested that the existing record population of 77,774, reached in October 2005, was partly the result of harsher sentencing after the 7 July bombings.

This is nonsense, and intended to ridicule and belittle the motives of those who support prisons. If the general public experiences more crime, they will naturally call for tougher penalties. This is not a “distorted” reaction, it’s a logical reaction.

Furthermore, it’s the judges who pass sentences, not the Sun newspaper, and I believe that a specific case of child murder would be most unlikely to encourage a judge to jail more burglars or drug addicts. And how one can attribute the previous decades rise in the prison population to the 7 July bombings is way beyond me.

In the same article we get even more ridiculous quotes from Mr Rob Allen of the International Centre for Prison Studies, at King's College, London:

There are now more people appearing before the courts with long strings of convictions who have failed to comply with non-custodial sentences. It may be that courts believe these people have run out of road... and prison is inevitable", he says.

Look at these words again. It is clearly being admitted that prison numbers have been rising because of the increasing number of multiple re-offenders for whom non-custodial sentences have failed. And we are told by prison reformers that the answer is to give these people yet more non-custodial sentences? How does this work?

A third opinion along similar lines was expressed by another expert on prisons.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers admits another factor (behind rising prison numbers) is the 250% rise in the number of people recalled to jails for breaching release conditions.
Some 11,081 inmates were recalled in 2004/05, compared with 3,182 in 00/01 - a "staggering" increase, Chief Inspector of Prisons Anne Owers reported in January.

Yet again, and another uncharacteristic admission from this quarter, that “breaching release conditions”, i.e. re-offending whilst still under community supervision, was massively up.

The answer one often sees, “….therefore it’s better not to have locked them up in the first place”, rings a bit hollow. Surely, keeping them in to finish the sentence they were given would have been a more acceptable conclusion to the innocent victims of these criminals.

I’ve left the best quote until last. Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust says:

“Although many people might expect the tougher line on crime to be connected to an increase in offences, this has not been the case….”

What she is driving at here is that increases in prison sentences, if they can ever be justified, can only be justified if they are in response to a concurrent rising crime rate, and if crime levels are falling we should be reducing prison numbers.

This is just plain daft. Life isn’t like this. If prison numbers blindly followed the crime rate then it would be true that, “Prison doesn’t work.” But the figures don’t follow each other in lock step, as Juliet Lyon probably well knows.

Initially, when tough-on-crime policies are adopted, it can take months if not years for these policies to enter the consciousness, and the risk/reward calculations of criminals, and it can take several years more to impact the offending rates of those criminals who are deterred the least, if at all, by the fear of prison. This is because of the greater time lag which occurs as the most recalcitrant criminals go through the lengthy process of arrest-trial-conviction perhaps many times over before eventually being sent to prison.

Let’s look at the evidence. The prison population began to rise significantly around 1993 from a level of 43,000 to 80,000 today. Police records suggest that overall crime levels peaked in the mid-1990’s and are at similar levels today, whilst British Crime Survey indicates that overall crime has been falling since a sharp 1995 peak, although whether this applies to assault, and crimes of violence is a topic for another debate.

Any sensible interpretation of this data would note that after a time lag of up to couple of years, rising prison numbers were associated with a stabilisation or a fall in overall crime levels. A sensible projection of this data must be that continuing to increase prison numbers might continue to drive crime rates down, i.e. Juliet Lyon’s expectation that rising prison numbers should coincide with rising crime is in fact the exact opposite of what we actually see in the data, and is what should be expected if prison works.

Today’s one BBC article which prompted this post illustrates the low quality of the arguments made by the prison reformist movement. This movement has lost much of the support it once enjoyed from the general public, it seems to have given up any appeals to reason, and to have given up presenting any evidence in support of its beliefs.

A cynic might suggest that to support their desire to save money, the government will only employ criminologists who sing from the prison reformist hymn sheet. And the singers will not change the songs which guarantee their income.

If this is true, I believe that the sooner this unhealthy symbiotic relationship is broken the better.


how come nothing is cited! freaking crazy jerks!

If I am a freaking crazy jerk, which I admit is a distinct possibility, then you are free to post counter arguments, and data which contradicts any of the figures that are cited above.

Most of my post was opinion, so I presume that you are only objecting to the specific uncited information that I quoted, "The prison population began to rise significantly around 1993 from a level of 43,000 to 80,000 today. Police records suggest that overall crime levels peaked in the mid-1990’s and are at similar levels today, whilst British Crime Survey indicates that overall crime has been falling since a sharp 1995 peak."

This is not disputed data, and it is freely available in the public domain.

Do you dispute that in the UK we have had a prison population increase from 1993 up to today, or are you so ignorant of the facts that you need a link to confirm such a quotation. Furthermore, the text actually says that “Police records suggest……”, and the “British Crime Survey indicates……”

I suggest that you do a Google search of UK police crime figures and the British Crime Survey………

………That’s if it’s not too much trouble.

Alternatively, rather than calling each other names, it would be far more beneficial if you could present a counter argument to suggest how we can reduce crime without resorting to the use of prison. I, along with all tax payers who have to pay for the prisons would be very interested in alternatives. You never know, if you have the answer to criminality and anti-social behaviour, we might actually be on the same side.

I got the same tramadol attack... well, not the same, because it was only about 20 comments instead of 90, and i t have any filtering set up, and I just deleted them one at a time... hmm.. the only thing really in common was that it was about tramadol... what filter do you have set up that caught them all?

Bonjour! What a super websight! Very refreshing to peruse from where we live in Paris (France). I eat frogs and drink wine. Woold like more informatons on this. Best regards! Mikael.

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