As David Cameron outlines new justice plans, is he right to criticise current prison policies?

YES

Andrew Neilson

If the Prime Minister wants prisons to work, the first question to ask is whether the right people are being sent there in the first place. The Ministry of Justice faces 6 per cent cuts year on year. And the agency running prisons and probation is forecast to spend £32m more than its budget for 2012-13 due to the lack of progress in reducing prison numbers. Almost two thirds of those serving sentences of a year or less go on to be reconvicted within two years of release. Worse still, each spell in prison makes reoffending more likely. By contrast, the reoffending rate for much cheaper community orders is only 37 per cent. A truly “tough and intelligent” approach to reforming justice policies would be to reduce prison numbers and focus on effective community interventions, with a better use of scarce resources within prison walls.

Andrew Neilson is director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform.

NO

David Green

David Cameron said that prevention is the “cheapest and most effective” way to deal with crime. Everything else is “simply picking up the pieces of failure”. But prison is a highly effective method of crime prevention and is not just a method of punishing law breakers. By locking up repeat offenders, prison does far more to reduce crime than any number of rehabilitation schemes, with or without payment by results. Crime fell by 6 per cent in the 12 months to the end of June 2012 compared with the previous year. And the prison population at the end of June 2012 was 86,352, compared with 85,266 twelve months earlier. Keeping over 1,000 repeat offenders locked up for a year goes a long way to explaining the fall in crime. Former justice minister Ken Clarke talked about rehabilitation, but fortunately the judges did their duty and locked up more offenders.

David Green is chief executive of Civitas.