In the UK and in most western nations we have a problem with re-offending rates of prisoners upon release.  Now lots of things have been tried and none of them have really worked, we still have a problem with 90% of those sent to prison in 2011 having had a previous conviction.  Watching Newsnight on Tuesday got me thinking about this.  Now I have previously blogged on prisons and how they should be used as a way of helping to treat offenders who are addicted to drugs, alcohol and other things.  Now I am sure that if you introduced that it would have some impact on re-offending rates. 

Now another thing came to me today while I was on my way home, I have helped a fair few prisoners through work, and I have noticed that a lot of them have problems with basic literacy and writing.  Now this has to play a large part in their choice they make in their life after prison.  As how can we expect someone who can’t read and right properly to hold down a job? 

So I have come up with a bit of a carrot and a stick idea to help reduce re-offending, firstly we give these people the skills that can help them to reform and become a helpful member of society and if that fails we have the stick.  Which would reduce re-offending rather significantly. 

Now the idea follows a similar path as my drug treatment plan, which was we deal with the addiction then the punishment starts and we release the prisoner addiction free back in to society.  Well I thought we could maybe do something similar with an education element.  Every prisoner would be tested to see what their reading, writing and literacy skills are and they are put on a compulsory scheme which will bring them up to a minimum A-level/NVQ standard.  This would allow them to get a job upon release that paid a reasonable amount to live off. 

Now we could make it a parole condition that until a person has achieved such a qualification then they would not be eligible for release.   Now some people would think this is barbaric keeping people in prison unless they achieve a set qualification.  But If we release them with the tools to be able to go out and work surely that has to be better than keeping them in a cell for a set period of time and then just kicking them out with no skills and have them arrested 6 months down the line for breaking the law again. 

Now the second part of my idea the stick part is not a new idea, it’s something that certain parts of the USA already use; which is the three strikes and you get life.  Now I wouldn’t go for just any three criminal acts like three speeding tickets and you get life in prison; as that would be a little harsh.  However I would have it set at three convictions of offences that were either an automatic indictable offence such as Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent or 3 conviction of an either way offence like Burglary or Theft. 

Now I am all for giving people a chance and a second chance, but I think we need to draw the line at some place, and I think 3 chances is a fair shot for breaking the law.  Especially when if you watch a criminal trial for burglary or alike when convicted they will normally ask for other offences to be considered, so it’s not like these people have only broken the law 3 times in most cases.  With a policy like this it would act as a deterrent to people not to commit crime.

However there is one big question as to how we would fund this, as undoubtedly we would be locking people up in prison for longer, and in a fair few cases for life.  It would be unfair to expect the tax payer to increase their contributions to help fund such a scheme.  So I thought we could utilise these large groups of people in a productive way.  Lots of prisons in the USA use prisoners to make things as it reduces the tedium of being locked up.

So I thought we could build factories within prisons that companies could use to manufacture their goods.  They would have to pay the prison service say minimum wage for each of the prisoners that they employed and in turn each of the prisoners would be paid the standard prison rate for a day’s work.   This way we are paying the prisoner for the work they do and funding the upkeep of prisons, so there could be no accusations of generating “slave” labour.

I think a combined approach of treating addiction and educating criminals should give them the skills and opportunities to lead a crime free life; with the threat there that if they don’t change their ways then we will come down very hard on them and remove them from society. 

Every time I watch one of these police programs on the telly I always get the feeling that the police are a little frustrated with the criminal justice system.  They do their bit and arrest the suspect and put them before the courts, yet the courts always seem to be very lenient when it comes to sentencing.  

You get the impression that the police know roughly who committed the relevant crimes in a set area but finding the concrete evidence is always an issue.  This is illustrated when the police do catch someone for something like burglary and they are put on trial and duly convicted; its then at that point that the burglar asks for other crimes to be taken in to consideration when passing sentence, which the judge does and they normally get a few more months in prison as a result. 

However the way I see things is we have the Law there as a deterrent to stop people committing crime with a punishment attached to it.  Now I think for the average person the risk of being sent to prison for something is not one that they want to take, as within the majority of society there is still a stigma attached to having been to prison.   

However for some people that stigma doesn’t apparently matter as there are a fair few people out there with a string of criminal convictions, which is illustrated by the UK’s re-offending rate.  Now there will be some people who will argue that people re-offend because prison doesn’t work and that these people are a perfect example as to why we shouldn’t keep sending people back to prison. 

However I think I have to disagree with that argument, I think they re-offend because prison fails to tackle the underlying issues of these people.  Prison is supposed to be about re-habilitating people who have done wrong so that when they are released they can be valued members of society.  If we are not going to tackle Mr Jones drug problem while he is in prison then when he comes out he’s only going to commit more crime to fund his drug addiction. 

This is where sentencing comes in to play, if Mr Jones has a drug problem then sending him to prison for a few weeks from burglary is not going to fix Mr Jones, his drug problem or reduce his likelihood to reoffend. 

Judges normally have a large amount of freedom when it comes to sentencing, as in most cases the guidelines published are nowhere near the maximum penalty they could hand out. Now if we made it mandatory that anyone with a drug or alcohol problem as part of their sentence had to go through rehabilitation, then we would reduce the likelihood that they would re-offend upon release.  Now obviously this wouldn’t be a cheap thing to do, and in a time of economic austerity some people would think it to be hard to justify the funding of such a program.  But I think there are ways around the funding issues, however we currently have 88,000 prisoners who are not really doing a lot.  If we were to utilise these people in making something or producing things they could actually generate a revenue stream that could be used to fund proper rehabilitation. 

So instead of sending Mr Jones to prison for 26 weeks, who then on release goes straight back to a life of crime to fund his drug problem, we would send him to prison to properly rehabilitate him so when he comes out he’s a productive member of society.  Now yes it would mean sending him to prison for longer, having him get clean from drugs and having him and the other prisoners work but in the long term it should reduce crime and the amount of money we spend catching people, prosecuting them and subsequently locking them up.  Prison should be about rehabilitation and punishment then it should work to the benefit of society.