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Does Prison Work?

According to the government’s Prison Population Statistics – as of 31 March 2016 the total prison population in England and Wales was just over 85,400. The number of people in jail has been increasing especially rapidly since Michael Howard declared that ‘Prison Works’ in 1993 – a mantra adopted by successive governments. Since that time, the prison population has doubled, with an average increase of 3.6% per year. (In Scotland and Northern Ireland the increase was considerably less during this period)

 

prison population UK 2016

This trend would suggest that we have truly entered the era of mass incarceration (David Garland’s concept),  but does prison actually work?

Does Prison Work?

If your measure of success is rehabilitation and the prevention of re-offending then it appears not: the proven re-offending rate within one year is just under 25%, and about 37% for juveniles.

Prison UK
Prison Doesn’t Work

NB These are the ones we know about, and this is only re-offending within one year, the actual re-offending rates are more than double this figure and the National Audit Office, re offending costs us the equivalent of staging another Olympic Games every year.’

To put these figures in context, if a school had 25-50% of its pupils who achieved no GCSEs, OFSTED would be called in and the management sacked, yet for some reason we tolerate these levels of failure where prison is concerned.

Possible Reasons why Prison Doesn’t Work

Firstly, most (as in about two thirds) have no qualifications and many prisoners have the reading age of a 10 year old when they go into jail – and lack of educational programmes in jail does little to correct this. Basically most prisoners are unemployable before they go inside, and they are doubly unemployable when they come out with a criminal record.

Secondly, our prisons are crammed full of people serving sentences for non-violent crimes, many of whom come from troubled and complex backgrounds – for example, 25% of prisoners grew up in care and over 40% have no home to go back to when they are released.

Thirdly, at the same time as the prison population doubling, in the last five years the number of staff employed in the prison estate has been cut by 30%, with the prison budget being slashed by a quarter.

The result is overcrowding and terrible conditions. It is estimated that 1/5 prisoners spends 22 hours a day in their cells; violence and drugs are rife and suicide rates are at their highest for 25 years.

This means that many jails simply aren’t the kind of environments which are conducive to rehabilitation – this is the focus of many documentaries, most recently the BBC’s ‘Life in Wandsworth Prison

This documentary demonstrates how under-staffing has resulted in a lack of care for prisoners, with many being locked-down for 23 hours a day, with scant mental-health care provision where required (which many prisoners do). In addition to this the documentary also shows how drugs are readily available in the jail, with weed being openly smoked in front of the guards and it’s clear that many of the prisoners are victims of violence while inside.

It costs £36 000 a year to keep someone in jail, maybe this money could be better spent on social schemes to prevent offending?

 

 

 

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Crime Prevention and Control Strategies

This summary sheet defines and gives examples of situational crime prevention, environmental crime prevention and social/ community crime prevention strategies

Situational Crime Prevention

  • Includes strategies which focus on the specific point at which potential victims and criminals come together, making it harder for the criminal to commit crime.

  • Examples include ‘target hardening’ – shutters, window locks, anti-climb paint and also CCTV and security guards. Also ‘designing out’ features which encourage criminality – e.g. sloping seats at bus stops.

  • Based on rational choice theory and Cohen and Felson’s ‘Routine Activities’ theory which state that much crime is opportunistic, and if you reduce the opportunities to commit crime, you reduce the crime rate.

  • Appealed to policy makers because target hardening is cheap and simple.

Evaluations of Situational Crime Prevention

  • The Port Authority Bus Terminal Building is an example where this worked.

  • Newburn (2013) points to an obvious link between improved car security measures and reduced car crime.

  • Ignores factors such as inequality and deprivation as causes of crime (Garland 2001).

  • Ignores the role of emotion and thrill as a cause of crime (Lyng 1990)

  • Only tackles opportunistic street crime – won’t work for DV, white collar crime, or state crime.

  • It creates divided ‘Fortress cities’ (Bauman).

  • It leads to crime displacement.

Environmental Crime Prevention

  • Includes formal and informal social control measures which try to clamp down on anti-social behaviour and prevent an area from deteriorating.

  • Emphasises the role of formal control measures (the police) much more than situational crime prevention theory.

  • Examples include Zero Tolerance Policing, ASBOs, curfews, street drinking bans, dispersal orders and the three strikes rule in America.

  • Based on Wilson and Kelling’s Broken Windows Theory – signs of physical disorder give off the message that there is low informal social control which attracts criminals and increases the crime rate.

Evaluations of Environmental Crime Prevention

  • The New York ‘Zero Tolerance’ study suggests that zero tolerance policies work to reduce crime.

  • HOWEVER, Levitt and Dubner in Freakonomics found that this correlation was coincidental – other factors were responsible for the decline in crime.

  • It is more expensive than situational crime prevention – it takes a lot of police to patrol an area and clamp down on anti-social behaviour.

  • Reiner (2015) argues that the police would be better deployed focusing on more serious crime hot spots rather than clamping down on minor forms of anti-social behaviour.

  • From an Interactionist perspective, giving more power to the police will just lead to more labelling and more criminal careers.

Social and Community Crime Prevention

  • Focus on individual offenders and the social context which encourages them to commit crime.

  • There are two broad approaches – Intervention, identifying groups and risk of committing crime and taking action to limit their offending, and Community – involving the local community in combating crime.

  • Farrington’s (1995) longitudinal research comparing offenders and non offenders found various ‘risk factors’ which correlated with crime – such as low education and parental conflict.

  • Intervention programmes based on the above have included pre-school programmes to help with attainment and parenting classes.

  • Examples of this working include the Perry School Project (USA) and the Troubled Families Initiative (UK).

Evaluations of social and community crime reduction

  • If done effectively, these are the most costly of all crime prevention measures.

  • HOWEVER, if done properly, community prevention measures can save hundreds of thousands of pounds, by ‘turning’ a potential criminal into an employed tax-payer.

  • Marxists argue that these policies may tackle deprivation but they do not tackle the underlying structural inequalities in the Capitalist system which are the root cause.

  • Such approaches target working class, inner city communities and do not tackle elite crime.

  • Michel Foucalt and David Garland interpret the these strategies as being about surveillance and control rather than real social change which prevents crime.