At a time when the UK seems to be sinking in a sea of violent crime, Justice secretary Jack Straw’s announcement of plans to construct more prisons looks at face value to be a sound investment.
Under the proposals, three so-called super-prisons will be built to help increase the number of prison places from the current 81,000 now to around 96,000 in 2014. But do we really need to lock up more people in a bid to curb crime?
We now have a situation that our prisons are seriously overcrowded, because of a combination of both media hysteria over crime levels, and a government policy which sets unrealistic targets for police forces to tackle crime. The result is that many people are being locked up for mostly minor offences. Some of them also suffer from personal and mental health problems. The courts are often caught in the middle and are often criticised if they get involved in high-profile cases.
What is needed right now is for a clear, long-term strategy for tackling crime… much of it doesn’t need to refer to prisons. We have a scandalous situation where high numbers of people live in acute poverty, particularly in our more deprived areas. Those who live in such areas are far more likely to get into trouble, but where are the plans to deal with their problems? Many of the most successful schemes which keep people out of prison are few and far between, and some of these are under threat of closure because of the lack of public funding.
Think about it, Mr Straw…. the amount in taxpayers’ cash you are committing to building new prisons could be better spent on seeking alternatives to prison, and helping to form a better social policy… but the nation won’t be holding its collective breath….