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March 4, 2008

UK looking at a market-incentive approach to prison and prisoner reform

This new article from the Guardian reviews a fascinating set of UK developments that ought to intrigue any and all would-be US criminal justice reforms.  The piece is headlined "Tories plan bonuses for prison governors who cut reoffending," and here are excerpts:

A ground-breaking "payment by results" scheme will turn most prisons into self-governing bodies that will win cash rewards — including bonuses for governors — if they cut reoffending rates among former inmates, David Cameron pledged yesterday.

In a shake-up of criminal justice policy, a future Conservative government would allow prisons to hire private companies or voluntary groups to steer inmates away from a return to crime — or risk a reduction in funds.  Successful prisons, which prevent former inmates from reoffending for two years after their release, would be paid a "premium tariff payment" — a sum equivalent to the amount the state spends on processing an offender through the criminal justice system again.  Prisons that failed to meet their targets would be denied the extra payments and would have to rely on the "basic tariff" paid to house each inmate.

Nick Herbert, the shadow justice secretary, said the system would cut reconviction rates by 20% and cost the taxpayer nothing because it would redirect £259m that would be spent on future offenders into the new programmes.  The radical changes are the most eye-catching element of what Cameron dubbed a "rehabilitation revolution" to cut the high levels of reoffending.  Sixty-five per cent of offenders are reconvicted within two years of being released from prison, helping to create what Cameron called the "crisis" in the prison system in England and Wales which has seen the prison population recently hit a record 82,180....

A 111-page Tory document on prisons said: "For the first time all institutions in the system — prisons, the probation service, public, private and voluntary agencies — will have one clear incentive: to stop individuals reoffending once they have left prison.  If they are successful they will be able to earn money. If they are not, they will still receive payments to cover their costs."  [Cameron] said: "For too long, Labour have refused to build the prison places that are needed.  And for too long, they have allowed prisons simply to warehouse criminals rather than reforming them.  The result is our chronic rate of reoffending."

This related article, headlined "Prisoners should make reparations to victims, says Cameron," includes some additional details on David Cameron's proposals: "The Conservative leader said that getting prisoners to make reparations to their victims would help to ensure that prisons were places where offenders could be rehabilitated."

The "Policy Green Paper" that lays out all these ideas goes by the catchy name "Prisons with a Purpose" and can be accessed here.

March 4, 2008 at 04:22 AM | Permalink


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There's clearly a logical flaw with this plan. Prisons will simply prevent offenders from being released so they can "lower" the number of reoffenders from that institution. There are plenty of ways prisons can keep offenders inside longer, from taking away good time credits, writing up false charges to prevent parole, to making false charges to add time to sentences. Clearly the "recidivism" they're talking about here is about crimes committed after release from prison, not crimes which take place in prison. Nobody cares about crime in prison except to the extent it may harm a correctional officer.

Posted by: bruce | Mar 4, 2008 6:45:12 AM

It is high time someone tried the type of plan discussed in the article.

Financial incentives work beautifully for many other things; so why not corrections?

That said, there are many different ways the prison can "cheat", and mechanisms will be needed to deal with all of them. Examples include prison policies that:

* Encourage prisoners to move away after release
* Interfere with the criminal justice system in order to prevent rearrest of former prisoners
* Steer to the prison convicts who are unlikely to reoffend in the first place

Posted by: William Jockusch | Mar 4, 2008 8:09:25 AM

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