Today David Cameron has delivered his latest speech on crime, rehabilitation and the prison system, his first since Kenneth Clarke was replaced by Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary. We have now moved from a time where prison was said to “work”, and although we are no longer instructed to “hug a hoodie” we are told that punishment must be “tough but intelligent.” But what does this actually mean in a time of austerity, where cuts are biting and more are coming in, yet crime has been seen to drop to the lowest since the early 1980s?
We have been told that payment by results is a key agenda for the coalition government, and will be rolled out nationally. Here, providers are paid for the results they achieve – in this instance a reduction in reoffending. With payment by results comes the opportunity for real rehabilitation, making sure that those who leave the prison gate are met with the support they need to make the transition back into society, and leave a life of crime behind. David Cameron commented, “we’re saying to charities, companies and voluntary organisations – come and help us rehabilitate our prisoners.” This presents an exciting opportunity for the voluntary and community sector, who are invited to deliver these rehabilitation programmes.
The Young Foundation has long been developing the field of payment by results (have a look at our most recent paper on Social Impact Bonds and our work on the Ministry of Justice Transforming Justice Initiatives). We acknowledge that the agenda has many pros and cons (for a quick overview see my past blog). However, key to David Cameron’s speech today is his acknowledgement that “prevention is the cheapest and most effective way to deal with crime.” We know crime is costly, prison costs around £40,000 a year for adult offenders, and around £60,000 a year for youth offenders, not to mention the costs of reoffending. The cost to society as a whole is huge – the Home Office estimates this to be between £35 billion to £60 billion per year. We must not forget the cost to victims of crime, and the damage crime inflicts on a community.
A focus on preventative investment in the criminal justice system is something we know could work. Our previous report, “Reducing Crime: the case for preventative investment” highlights that a preventative approach is both a cheaper and more effective way to deal with crime. Our analysis highlights that a programme of investment of £145 million in preventative actions – including resettlement support and restorative approaches – could assist almost 100,000 people in turning their lives around across the UK, returning an amount of around £200 million cashable savings for councils, police and prisons in the medium term, while avoiding some £100 million of damage to victims from injury, emotional trauma, and inability to work.
However, our work at the Young Foundation also focuses on enacting prevention at a far earlier stage. As part of our Realising Ambition programme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, we are part of a consortium working across the UK to replicate proven models of practice in diverting children and young people, aged 8-14, away from pathways into crime. Importantly, this is working with young people before any criminal activity has occurred. This programme will help 25 organisations scale and replicate, and over the five years of the programme it is anticipated that some 250,000 children and young people will benefit.
Prevention needs to be recognised as a key agenda, and not a buzz word which is used to win votes, or a measure to be used in the face of great financial difficulty. Preventative approaches do have the power to save money in the long term, but we’ve seen from our research and practical work that they also have the power to turn people’s lives around and make our communities a safer place to be. Payments by results is one of many potential vehicles to move a preventative approach forward, however, we must not forget prevention in its purest form – diversion before any criminal activity takes place.
Mhairi Aylott is a researcher at The Young Foundation and co-author of Reducing Crime: The case for preventative investment.