Nick's Week

Once again I am writing on a train.  This time I am on the 7.20 am from London to Hull where I will be visiting a prison and learning about new schemes to reduce re-offending. 

Half of all crime is committed by people who have already offended, and around two thirds of adults released from prison are criminals again within two years.

The figures are worse for juvenile offenders.  We have to break this cycle, which is why it's so important to look at ways to make prison and community sentences work, and improve rehabilitation.

Far from being soft on criminals, as the Shadow Home Secretary ludicrously asserted this week - contrary to the views of his new party leader - I believe that hard headed reform of the penal system is long overdue. 

If we lock up a young criminal for a short period and the sentence makes him worse, not better, only to watch him leave prison and offend again within months, we have not made the public safer.

Last week in New York I went to a tough neighbourhood in Queens to see an innovative project which is offering courts an alternative to detention for young offenders.

Run from a church hall, an impressive team of professionals supervise and guide the juveniles, with rigorous after school courses (including sport) and checks to enforce their curfew.

To date 84 per cent of participating youths have complied with court requirements, remain arrest free and have successfully completed the programme.

So often we need to look beyond the weary claims and question whether the conventional remedies really are the right ones.  Yet again this week I heard the assertion that spending cuts to the police are bound to lead to higher crime.

Where's the evidence for that?  In New York last week, police chiefs told me they'd lost over a tenth of their manpower in the last decade, yet crime fell by over a third.

Smarter ways to deploy police resources; smarter ways to reduce offending.  Old thinking says we make people safer just by spending more money.  New thinking asks how wisely we are spending, and looks at ways to improve the system.

Christopher N Howarth