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“Cutting Crime: The Case for Justice Reinvestment”

Volume 507: debated on Tuesday 16 March 2010

I have laid today before Parliament the Government response to the Justice Committee report: “Cutting Crime: the case for justice reinvestment”. This document sets out the response of the Government to the report published by the House of Commons Justice Committee in January 2010.

In January 2008 the Justice Committee launched an inquiry into the cost implications of the Government’s current strategy to reduce reoffending and potential alternative policies. The Committee’s report contains 98 recommendations and conclusions and these make a case for a systematic approach to justice reinvestment as a way to reduce the size of the prison population, as well as providing an analysis of the current strategy for reducing reoffending and cutting crime. We are very grateful to the Committee for their contribution in this important debate.

The Government share with the Committee the ambition to tackle both crime and the causes of crime: to reserve custody for the most serious offenders; to make full use of tough community sentences that demand change from the offender and maintain public confidence; and to invest in ‘what works’ in reducing reoffending. The Government approach involves punishment for breaking the law, and giving offenders the opportunity to reform and turn away from crime. The aim is to ensure justice for victims and local communities; punishment and reform for offenders; and, ultimately, value for the taxpayer. This is a complex undertaking, and one in which we have already achieved much: according to the British crime survey, crime has dropped by over a third since 1997, and adult reoffending is down 20.3 per cent. since 2000 and 11.1 per cent. since 2005. However, we want to go further and will reflect carefully on the Committee’s analysis and recommendations.

Government have a duty to protect the public, and a key element of this is to provide sufficient prison places for the most dangerous, serious and persistent offenders. We are clear that prison remains the right option for these offenders and that a prison sentence, long or short, can be essential to demonstrating to law-abiding communities that offenders face the full range of punishments, including the deprivation of liberty behind bars. We must ensure therefore, that prison is available as an option for sentencers when necessary. The Government are committed to increasing prison capacity to 96,000 places by 2014 to meet projected demand.

Nevertheless, we recognise that for a significant number of offenders community sentences can be more effective: in 2008, the number of people sentenced to community sentences was 190,171 compared to 99,525 for immediate custody. More can be done as part of a wider approach that includes tough community sentences for lower-risk offenders and diversion away from the criminal justice system where other alternatives would be more effective, in particular access to mental health services.

Innovations such as intensive alternatives to custody, integrated offender management, and the prolific and other priority offenders programme, are clear examples of how partners can work together to focus resources where they can make the greatest impact. Our work to take forward the recommendations set out in the Corston and Bradley reviews (for women in prison and offenders with mental illnesses respectively) demonstrates our commitment to ensuring better use of community alternatives where this is possible and safe to do.

The Government seek to ensure that prison is used in a measured, responsible way on behalf of the wider community, that what happens in prison is effective and efficiently delivered, and that resources can be used in both custody and the community to reduce reoffending. Our detailed response is set out in the Government response to the Justice Committee report “Cutting Crime: the case for justice reinvestment”, copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.