In the light of Mr Grayling’s inspired decision to make a decision before he has received the data required to take a decision on prison reoffending rates, I thought listeners might like to tune into this broadcast from July 2010….
RAOUL MOAT: Shooting ourselves in the foot on crime.
Now that Raoul Moat is no longer with us, it seems appropriate to post a view on the manhunt: why it happened, what it cost, and what we can learn from its many elements.
It happened because Mr Moat was a self-obsessed and mentally unbalanced body-builder with all the usual form: multiple arrests for weapons ownership and common assault, bouncer at various clubs, insanely jealous of other men and so forth.
It also happened because his latest imprisonment – 18 weeks for assault – had done nothing except stir him up into a frenzy of hate against his girlfriend and her new bloke.
It was lengthened by Moat having access to guns, and accomplices prepared to help him.
And it happened because he was and always would be a danger to society. The telling point here is that the prison let him go following a risible sentence (they had no choice) but within minutes were ringing various police forces, more or less to yell “Headcase alert!”
What is the point of a justice, sentencing and incarceration system that behaves like this?
And so to the cost. It’s not all bad news: Mr Moat was very good for news station ratings, and he did at least have the decency to kill himself, thus removing the cost of putting him – cluelessly – into another cell somewhere at vast cost to the State.
But the number of police officers and various other emergency services put on alert to catch one (clearly resourceful) chap will be horrifying. This is the way it is with a dysfunctional system run by people with no sense of mission: it gets very expensive in all kinds of entirely foreseeable ways. If the taxpayer gets out of this with a cost much under £3million, I’d very surprised.
Nothing will be learned from any of it. No doubt Theresa May the Winged Avenger will be seen throughout the day praising police bravery and superb organisation. For sure the Daily Mail will witter on about the sentence being outrageous (Is this the daftest Judge in England?). And somebody sooner or later will warn about the dangers of taking steroids.
This is all bollocks, but it helps to make people feel better. What we could learn, if we had a mind to, includes:
1. If you know the law states a prisoner must be let go, medicate his mental condition. Better still, get the guy diagnosed and, if necessary,detained until his mood improves.
2. Tell the police before you release him, not afterwards.
3. Ask yourself – at long last – the obvious question: what is the point of a prison sentence under the current regime?
Unfortunately, we live in a culture where 1. above would be abused within days, the police at 2. would do nothing, and even raising 3. will produce howls of protest. But none of this can change the facts.
And the facts are these:
1. Two thirds of all released prisoners reoffend within two years. (Justice Ministry)
2. Reoffending by thousands of criminals serving short prison terms in England and Wales costs the taxpayer up to £10bn a year. (National Audit Office)
3. The more people are sent to already overcrowded prisons, the more the reoffending rate rises.
New Labour built more and bigger prisons than ever before. But reoffenders rose from 53% to 65%. And the reason seems to be obvious: first and minor offenders get banged up and meet professionals who teach them more in a month than school ever did in 12 years.
The knee-jerk reaction from the Tories before the election was more prisons, tougher treatment, and vague promises not to fiddle the figures like their predecessors. Like most political ideas, it is easy on the backbenchers, and populist – but nothing to do with the problem.
The problem exists at three levels:
* A knackered culture (as in the Daily Star’s two-word front page this morning, ‘GOT HIM’.)
* Easy access to weapons
* The use of prison as a one-size-fits all punishment
* The near-total lack of any remedial or scientific methodologies being applied to those who are imprisoned.
It is, of course, a gigantic subject. And it will get bigger, more confused and more expensive until somebody uses her noddle about what’s required – as opposed to what plays well at Conference.
Hint for Theresa: ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ is not it.