Respect and Crime Reduction
Tony Blair has renewed his attack on the lack of ‘respect’ and has stimulated a debate about the underlying causes of crime. The issue is the right one, but the Government is still failing to take the most basic measures necessary to encourage offenders to lead a law-abiding life on release from jail: particularly getting prisoners off drugs and providing basic and vocational skills (below). Moreover, some Government policies inadvertently encourage family breakdown, one of the chief causes of crime. The proposed National Parenting Academy is not an adequate answer.
Here are some extracts from our most recent study, explaining the underlying causes of crime and where Mr Blair’s ‘respect’ agenda fits in.
Failure to control drugs
The Government could take effective measures to educate prisoners and get them off drugs while they are in custody. Mr Blair’s Government has fallen short on both counts. One Home Office Study found that 75% of prisoners interviewed had taken drugs whilst in prison, most commonly heroin (53%) and cannabis (55%). The problem is so pervasive that prisoners who were trying to kick their habit complained to the Home Affairs Committee in 2004 that it was too easy to get drugs. The only effective solution is to subject every prisoner to a mandatory drug test on admission and to start treatment immediately. The Home Office prefers random tests despite the admission in the 2002-03 prison service annual report that they have failed to cut drug taking. The failure is not surprising if the experience of the former chief inspector of prisons, David Ramsbotham, is typical. During one visit he found a prisoner with nine certificates on his wall for testing negative. The prisoner said he was always picked for the ‘random’ drug test because he was known as a non-user. This allowed the prison to meet the target requiring it to reduce the number of inmates testing positive.
Failure to educate prisoners
Prison education and work programmes have been found to be among the most effective methods of encouraging prisoners to lead a law-abiding life on release. American studies have found that inmates who had acquired vocational qualifications reoffended 33 per cent less than other offenders. A lot of good work is being done in our prisons. Last year prisoners achieved over 46,000 qualifications in literacy and numeracy, as well as nearly 110,000 qualifications in work-related skills. But many are still discharged with no qualifications and over 60% of prisoners interviewed in 2004 by the Home Affairs Committee said they spent no time at all in vocational or similar training.