Monday, June 19, 2006

Does prison work?

There has been near hysteria in the media this weekend about the issue of crime. Knife crime reports, naming and shaming paedophiles, (pediatricians keep your heads down and doors locked) 'life must mean lifers' and a massive prison building expansion programme have all vied for attention in the headlines. We could be forgiven for thinking we were living in downtown Chicago in the 1930's with waves of lawlessness threatening the very fabric of our society. Dr John Reid is following in a long line of illiberal Labour Home Secretaries desperate to prove they are tough on crime and sod the causes of crime. In the same way that Labour has traditionally held the moral high ground over issues like public services, the Nasty Party has always dominated in the 'prison works' area, and Reid, like his predecessors, thinks talking tough about locking up the bad guys will allow us to make up ground and impress newspaper editors composing the latest horror headlines. Roy Hattersley takes up these themes in The Guardian, saying... "the ghastly competition in who can be toughest on crime and the causes of crime will continue, with profound damage to the fabric of civilised society." The question that must be answered is, if the screaming headlines about a breakdown of law and order are correct, and the prison population rises year on year, how does 'Prison Work'? In the United States, with an incredibly high prison population and an extremely harsh penal system... have they solved the crime problem?