143-National Enquiry - Final Report

143-National Enquiry - Final Report - Foreword Peter...

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Community or Custody? A National Enquiry 3 Foreword Peter Oborne, Chief Political Commentator The Daily Telegraph I have always been uneasily aware that political correspondents such as myself report law and order issues in a false and often misleading way. Because we tend to spend so much of our time at Westminster, we rarely if ever explore the underlying realities behind the set piece political debates on crime. And our reporting is often loaded. For example Home Secretaries such as Michael Howard and David Blunkett are said to be ‘tough on crime’ because they demand longer jail sentences and more police powers. By contrast those on the other side are said to be ‘soft’ or even ‘weak’. So from the start the debate is framed in favour of those who urge long prison sentences. There are few more damning epithets in the political lexicon than the words ‘soft’ and ‘weak’ and this accounts for a typical Westminster paradox: you have to be a very brave politician indeed to take a liberal view on crime and punishment. It was for this reason that I was so intrigued when I was asked to Chair the Make Justice Work Enquiry. I hoped that by taking part I might gain a deeper understanding of the truth about the deep and troubling issues that underlay the public debate. The frst point that became shatteringly clear was that alternatives to prison are not a soFt option so often portrayed. In Manchester the Intensive Alternative to Custody Project was incredibly impressive and really opened my eyes. Here young criminals were given very demanding community work. They were monitored night and day. They were obliged to confront their alcohol and drug problems- the issues that had typically got them into trouble in the frst place. I was hugely impressed by the social worker who dealt with the offenders’ families. Again and again by talking to parents and siblings she would identify the deep problems that had sent offenders down a life of crime- and then mobilise families to provide support. A number of the offenders at this Manchester course told us that it would have been much easier to have gone to prison for three months, and that some people did indeed make the decision to drop out and go to jail. But for those who did fully participate in the very intrusive and challenging twelve month alternative programme the rewards were huge. By the end of it they had often been found jobs. They were far less likely to commit another crime and by the end some were well on the way to becoming Fully-±edged members oF society. It is perfectly true, as Conservative MPs in particular like to claim, that prisoners cannot commit crimes while in jail. But they are far more likely to reoffend when they have
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4 Community or Custody? A National Enquiry served their term than those who have been given an alternative punishment. At the woman’s project we visited in Bradford the reoffending rate is between 5-10%.
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143-National Enquiry - Final Report - Foreword Peter...

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