Monday 29 June 2009

Make Justice Work!

Today an important campaign is being launched.
"Make Justice Work" is a campaign designed to make the argument in the media and to politicians that the criminal justice system is in urgent need of change. Today's launch event will include a discussion on penal reform and a presentation of the results of an exclusive new report commissioned by MJW outlining the economic and efficacy case for community based alternatives to short-term prison sentences.

It is being chaired by Martha Lane-Fox, founder of Roma Hooper is the excellent and vigorous Campaign Director.
I have agreed to be one of the Campaign's Ambassadors and have signed a letter to the press outlining the case. It is extraordinary that we lock up so many people in this country. The cost to public spending and to social cohesion is immense. It is high time the Government got a grip on this.
It is an area where Political Parties need to think more long term on public spending. We know spending has to be cut. And we know it is better in the longer term to spend money on rehabilitation and prevention than the revolving door of crime. This will require a radical reform to our public finances. Stop thinking short term and invest in rehabilitation now to cut prison costs in future. It is sheer idiocy that we pour money into prisons and starve third sector organisations of resources they need to do the work that really prevents crime in the future.
And it is stupid that HMT only ever look at actual money costs and not the wider picture of the real costs to society of the failure to work on rehabilitation.
Prison is a justified and legitimate response to serious crime but short-term custodial sentencing does not cut offending rates and is not cost-effective.
The independent research published today for this campaign shows that the majority of community sentences provide similar or better value for money and effectiveness than short-term prison sentences. Looking at the specific case of short sentenced drug-using offenders in 2007 alone, it is estimated that society would have saved almost £1 billion, throughout the offenders’ lifetime, had they been given residential drug treatment instead of being sentenced to 12 months or less in prison. The annual cost savings for the first six years post sentencing would have been £60-100 million.
This campaign needs to succeed. Interestingly the campaign is being launched on the day the Prime Minister is to outline the Governments plans for more public service reform. I was invited to join him but my Deputy has to go in my place - although when I ask him he tartly reminds me he has been asked himself anyway. So there.
Unless the Government understand that a radical approach using the third sector in a big way - like on prison reform - we will not get the change we all need. Time to stop tinkering. Time to stop thinking third sector at margins and put us at heart of reform. There is always rhetoric on sector delivery but practical progress is more slow. Time for a ratcheting up of change. Indeed we now need to abandon the notion that government is neutral on delivery between private and third sector and start looking at how to circumvent competition rules and move out derives to us. DWP under James showed the way with The Right to Bid process. Why has that not been implemented in other departments?
I suggest we now need a Third Sector Reform Tsar , in the cabinet Office with resources to start pushing change. And urgently implementing the Social Investment Bank to drive capital into sector so we can compete on equal terms with the private sector. Less grand policy announcements. Just get on with it.

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