In July last year the Criminal Justice Alliance sent a paper, How to start reducing the prison population, to Rory Stewart. They argued that the population could be reduced by 12,000 in 4 years, saving £900m. Some of their ideas can be done without legislation, some not.
I am in in favour of this sort of pragmatic ‘how to’ approach and we badly need to get prison numbers down quickly.
However, it is marred by mistakes and weaknesses which are all too common when pressure groups are keen to explain that this or that policy change will liberate huge amounts of dosh, as follows:
(In one respect, the CJA may have underestimated savings, in that a reduction of 12,000 or even 6,000 would be enough to close prisons, so there would be capital income as well. But that assumes the CJA is content to leave overcrowding at its present near record levels, with all the damage that does. On the other hand, if you keep all prisons open, so that overcrowding reduces as prisoner numbers fall, you much reduce your savings per unit, as it were. And in any case, on latest projects the population will continue to rise, making it problematic to close prisons only to have to reopen or rebuilt them later.)
It seems a little harsh to criticise the CJA since they have at least shown some of their their workings and tried to net of some new costs. But it’s very clear that the real net savings achievable through this plan are a fraction of the £344m a year claimed, that the £900m figure is misleading because arbitrarily accumulated over years, and that any net savings that can be made must stay in the prison system itself, if we want to alleviate their current disgraceul state at all.
As FD, I always thought smaller amounts based on realistic assumptions had more impact than big numbers resting on dubious foundations. And it matters much more now: because in the post Brexit world, where there is good reason to believe that the economy will slump for many years, and no reason to think rates of growth can ever recover to pre-2008 levels, the only way we can improve services – or preventing them deteriorating – will be through radical, but utterly realistic, ways of doing thiings differently. And we know, from so many examples, how difficult it is to realise savings in services through deliberate changes in policy and practice, rather than arbitrary cuts.
For the terrible truth is, we aren’t almost out of austerity – we are about to re-enter it, courtesy of the monstrous self-harm of Brexit.
I was formerly Finance Director of the Prison Service and then Director of the National Offender Management Service responsible for competition. I also worked in the NHS and an IT company. I later worked for two outsourcing companies.
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