Headlines: March 6th, 2003

Reducing the numbers of convicted criminals who offend again is the key to protecting communities from crime, according to the Home Office Minister Lord Falconer. Speaking at a seminar organised jointly with the crime reduction charity Nacro, he said that for too long the debate on sentencing had focussed on community sentences versus custody.He said the government was unequivocal that prison was the right response for dangerous sexual and violent offenders and that they should be in custody for as long as public protection required, but in other cases, public protection could be achieved just as effectively, through tough, community-based programmes which both punished and tackled many of the factors that led to offending in the first place.

Lord Falconer acknowledged the successes of the Correctional Services in reducing rates of re-offending. He said radical evidence-based programmes had helped the Probation Service cut the number of repeat offences by 3.1 per cent, against a target of 5 per cent by 2004. The Prison Service had also made great strides in combating offenders’ drug and alcohol problems and this, too, had demonstrated that prisons could help rehabilitate offenders with a 3.3 per cent drop in re-convictions compared to two years ago.

“Of course, it is for the courts to decide what is the most appropriate punishment in each individual case. But whatever the sentence, due regard must be given to reducing re-offending. And you can be assured that theCorrectional Services will continue to accommodate all those sent to them by the courts and provide a secure, decent environment in which the problems which bring so many offenders to prison can be tackled head-on,” Lord Falconer said.

Paul Calvadino, The Chief Executive of Nacro welcomed the seminar as an opportunity to move forward the debate about sentencing. Prison would always be the right response for some offences, and some offenders but was the wrong response for many others. “There needs to be less talk of being tough or soft on crime and more emphasis on effective sentencing and what works in reducing re-offending,” he said.