Home Secretary Charles Clarke has used his five-year strategy aimed at reducing re-offending published today to announce that there will be a new sentencing framework for juveniles which would set out the purpose of juvenile sentencing.
The strategy also introduces a single Youth Rehabilitation order which would have a menu of interventions designed to tackle drug abuse, treat mental health problems or include reparation and this would replace the nine existing community sentences available to magistrates.
It also outlines plans for the Home Office to work with the Department of Health to reduce the number of offenders with mental health problems being held in prison.
Dangerous offenders with mental health problems will still be treated in prison or secure hospitals but the report acknowledges that those with low level disorders could be better treated outside the prison system in a hospital or in the community.
The five-year plan aims to protect the public from dangerous and violent offenders as well reducing re-offending rates.
In a statement Charles Clarke admitted that a reduction in re-offending rates was central to the strategy.
“A shocking truth is that more than half of all crime is committed by people who have been though the criminal justice system before. The idea that “prison works” in stopping re-offending is visibly wrong,” he said.
The plan includes:
• Indeterminate sentencing for dangerous offenders.
• Faster and fairer justice for minor offences.
• Rebranding all unpaid work as ‘Community Payback’.
• New forms of sentencing combining prison with community punishment and supervision afterwards.
Clarke acknowledged in the report that black and minority ethnic groups are “over represented” in all areas of the criminal justice system, stating that there are seven times more black prisoners in the UK than white. He pledged to continue to monitor ethnic groups in prisons to ensure that they are being treated fairly by the criminal justice system.
Initiatives are also being considered to reduce the number of women and foreign nationals in UK prisons. Female offenders with family responsibilities could use intermittent custody to cut the female prison population while ‘prisoner transfer agreements’ will be used to allow foreign nationals to complete their sentences in their own countries.
The strategy also suggests a new style of ‘community prison’ in order to bridge the gap between custody and community for offenders. The prisons would be for less serious offenders who are close to their release date. They would provide links to local communities and services and also allow prisoners to stay in touch with family members whilst completing their sentence.
Richard Garside, Acting Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said: “The government is right to recognise that putting petty offenders in prison is counter-productive. But getting more offenders painting fences in the community will not have the significant impact on levels of crime that the government wants.
“Making a serious attempt to tackle underlying levels of poverty and exclusion in a co-ordinated strategy across government will have a far greater impact on levels of crime and harm in society than headline-grabbing initiatives. At present there is a danger that the criminal justice system is being set up to fail as a cheap, poor quality social service,” he added.
Lucie Russell, SmartJustice Director said: “Charles Clarke seems to have got it right, low level offenders must pay back to the community for the damage they have caused by doing compulsory work – rather than sitting in a prison cell doing nothing.
“Our recent survey carried out in conjunction with Victim Support, shows that victims of crime want community punishments and an attack on the causes of crime – such as better supervision and activities for young people, plus drug and mental health treatment – rather than simply building yet more prisons,” she concluded.