Nothing sums up more succinctly or accurately my attitude to criminal justice policy than “Tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime.” I campaigned for that approach in the run-up to the 1997 general election and I still hold to that approach today.
In the 1990s, the Conservatives had become soft on crime – cutting the numbers of police officers, cutting prison numbers to save expenditure – and were doing little to prevent re-offending.
From 1997, I had no hesitation in supporting policies which saw tough action about anti-social behaviour, and the bad guys being locked up for serious sexual and violent crime, the possession and use of knives and guns, and persistent criminality, like burglary.
I also supported a whole range of initiatives which sought to prevent crime, divert young people away from criminal temptation, and in measures which cut re-offending and enabled rehabilitation.
However, this Conservative government has resorted to type. Police numbers have been significantly cut and there are more cuts to come. The probation and related offender-management services have been privatised, and we are now seeing monitoring reports of poor performance – letting down the public and offenders – from across the country.
The Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government also pursued significant privatisation of the prison system. Is it any surprise that the companies now running our prisons are the same ones who massively over-charged us for offender tagging which was never undertaken (for example, SERCO had to repay more than £64 million), and handed back health and education contracts after failing to deliver what they had promised? Between 2010 and 2016, G4S was fined more than 100 times for breaching its contracts to run prisons.
The prison population has remained stable at around 85,000 in recent years, but the number of prison officers has been cut from 25,000 to less than 18,000. So, is it any surprise that violence, illegal drug-use, access to mobile phones, self-harm and suicides in prisons are at all-time highs? This also means that access to rehabilitation services has also been cut.
This government is soft on crime and unwilling to tackle the causes of crime. We will all suffer as a result.