Cash being used to build jails to hold the burgeoning prison population should be switched into preventing vulnerable people becoming caught up in crime in the first place, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is warned today by MPs.
In a damning assessment of the Ministry of Justice’s priorities, they urge the Treasury to investigate whether taxpayers’ money is being used effectively to reduce crime. The cash could be better spent on support for first-time single parents, as well as schemes helping people with mental health and alcohol problems, the Commons Justice select committee said. It also questioned how much credit the Government can take from continuing falls in crime rates.
In a report published today, the committee said violent crime, 44 per cent of which is drink-related, costs Britain almost £30bn a year, while drug-related crime costs £13.3bn and crime committed by people with behavioural problems as children costs £60bn. It contrasted the huge bills with the relatively small amounts spent on schemes such as family nurse partnerships, a programme of help for teenage single parents. The committee called for more funding to be allocated to mental health services – the “inadequacy of which costs the police, courts, probation, and prisons and victims of crime greatly” – and protested that alcohol treatment remained a “Cinderella service” both in prison and the community.
Sir Alan Beith, its chairman, said the amounts given to such initiatives were tiny compared with spending on prisons and the “staggeringly high costs to society of crime”. The committee accused ministers of shying away from using the programme of cuts to the criminal justice system to reevaluate where and how taxpayers’ money is spent. MPs said they could not establish whether the ministry and the Treasury had examined the case for diverting money earmarked for prison-building to other schemes. They called for a “Government-wide approach which recognises more explicitly that the criminal justice system is only one limited part of the system through which taxpayers’ money is spent to keep people safe”.
Politicians are urged to tone down their “hardline rhetoric” about crime for fear they could “inappropriately influence” sentencers and demoralise professionals working with offenders. The media is also challenged to promote a “more rational debate on criminal justice”.The theme was picked up by this post on the Politics.co.uk website:-
Grayling's tough justice is as expensive as it is useless
We know Chris Grayling's 'hang-em-and-flog-em' approach to crime doesn't work. Now we are starting to see how much it costs.
The prisons are stuffed full of more and more people, the conditions inside getting worse all the time - partly as a matter of policy. Grayling pays eye-watering fines for each new inmate he adds to overcrowded private prisons.
The need to cut costs could have been an opportunity to think differently about how to do rehabilitation. Instead Grayling has retreated into a Dickensian penal policy - the equivalent of an old general reading the Telegraph with his breakfast and spluttering about political correctness.
A justice committee report published today showed MPs are running out of patience with the Ministry of Justice's lack of interest in evidence-based policy or value for money. MPs on the committee went to Texas and found a political consensus. In this bastion of liberalism, they found agreement that there needed to be a plan to limit the growth of, and ultimately reduce, the prison population - primarily for financial reasons.
MPs, like so many before them who looked at the evidence, called for an increased use of community sentences.
'The committee concludes that a prison system which effectively rehabilitates a smaller number of offenders, while other offenders are rehabilitated through robust community sentences, has the potential to bring about a bigger reduction in crime," MPs found.
The finding is unlikely to trouble Grayling, because evidence plays little role in his view of the world. As MPs found, "ministers appear to have taken steps to increase their understanding of crime trends only at a relatively late stage in this parliament". They called on the government to "recognise more explicitly where reoffending has fallen and seek to understand why".
Saving public money is apparently the entire raison d'etre of this government, but while Grayling bleeds cash with his overstuffed prisons, there's no investigation of how to spend taxpayer money most effectively.
Committee chair Alan Beith said:
"Although crime has been falling, the extent to which this can, in practice, be attributed to national or local crime reduction policies is unclear. We do not have the right structures in place to provide a collective memory of research evidence, its relative weight, and its implications for policy making, including the best direction of resources, and we call on the government to create an independent and authoritative body to facilitate this."MPs even bother to lay out some price tags. What if just some of the resources earmarked for new prison development could be used on early intervention techniques? The savings could be significant.
For example, each year:
- Violent crime, 44% of which is alcohol related, costs almost £30 billion
- Crime perpetrated by people who had conduct problems in childhood costs around £60 billion.
- Drug related crime costs £13.3 billion.
- Anti-social behaviour related to alcohol abuse costs £11 billion
- Evidence based parenting programmes cost about £1,200 per child.
- It's estimated that drug treatment prevented 4.9 million offences in 2010-11, saving approximately £960 million.
Grayling was put in post to placate the tabloids. And this is what you get if you do the tabloids' bidding on criminal justice: wasted public money and ineffective policy.
On top of all this we still don't know how much the TR omnishambles is costing, but estimates put it at around £150 million so far.