In a recent speech Beyond prison, redefining punishment, Justice Secretary David Gauke (pictured), set out the government's vision for the future of criminal justice. He said that now is the time to start a conversation about what smart justice would look like – focusing on evidence-based interventions to reduce re-offending, provide appropriate punishment and protect the public.
The minister began his speech by referencing statistics on incarceration rates across Europe – highlighting that England and Wales have a relatively high rate of imprisonment. He said that it was important to recognise that prison is costly and often ineffective in reducing re-offending, especially for those given short prison sentences. Although the minister did emphasise that tough sentences are needed for violent or sexual offences, there was acknowledgment that increasing the punitive response to crime was not necessarily the answer and it was definitely a positive change in tone to hear a Justice Minister talk about smart justice instead of tough justice.
The minister used his speech to talk about positive steps being taken, including piloting Treatment Requirements, publishing a Female Offender Strategy and rolling-out the use of GPS tags to monitor offenders in the community. The MA has previously welcomed the first two of these initiatives as important steps to providing community alternatives targeted towards those cohorts for which currently such provision is not always available.
It was also welcome to hear the minister talk about the importance of sentencer confidence in community sentences, and the need to provide effective and appropriate alternatives to custody. However, as yet, there are no new announcements relating to probation provision, which surely must be the focus if the government want to succeed in their aim of reducing the use of short-term prison sentences (see the MA report and consultation response).
The minister also talked about using technology innovatively to provide effective punishment without resorting to custody but, other than increased use of tagging, it was unclear what else this might involve. The MA was disappointed when the Transforming Compliance and Enforcement Programme had to be closed down prior to completion – hopefully there will be new opportunities to look at modern approaches to the collection of fines and other court orders (such as confiscation orders) to ensure offenders are not 'able to reap any lifestyle benefits from their crimes' – an aim stated by the minister that we can all support.