Roles of Government - Security (III)

Content note: I am getting slower in sourcing my posts. In an attempt to keep content flowing, I am going to be doing more ranting and less evidencing in my next few posts. Anything which you doubt, dispute or otherwise want to question, please hit me with it and I will try to source it or amend it as appropriate.

After Defence and the Home Office, the last ministry primarily concerned with security is the Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry of Justice is essentially responsible for the courts, prisons, the Probation Service, and the judiciary.

While I'm sure insiders could point to various problems, I don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with the judiciary, and it's not very expensive in the grand scheme of things, so we'll leave that as it stands.
As to the court system more generally, again I am sure there are many changes those intimate with it might wish to make; the main problem of which I am aware is with access in the first place, so I would advise increases to Legal Aid funding. The current level is £1.7 billion per year, and the Government is looking to cut it; this is stupid. I would allow for say doubling it over the course of a Parliament, and thus having £3.5 billion per annum available after five years. It doesn't matter how just your laws are, or how fair your courts, if the average person on the street can't afford to bring a case, or defend one.

I'm also firmly of the opinion that "justice too long delayed is justice denied"; so funding some over-capacity of courts in order to ensure that there are not long delays for trials seems reasonable.

Prisons, detention centres etc - as discussed before, we are closing the detention centres, at a substantial saving. We are also going to cut prison occupancy substantially as those convicted purely of drug offences are released.
Where is that money going to go? Primarily into probation and drug treatment programs; indeed, it may well be worth spending more on those services than was spent on prisons, in order to cut imprisonment still further - locking up one person for a year costs around £40,000. A life sentence (minimum 25 years before parole) costs at least £1,000,000, and up to (sentenced at 21 to a life-means-life sentence, lives to life expectancy of 79) - about £2.3 million. Quite apart from improving peoples' lives (both those who would have been locked up, and those who would have been victims), spending money to prevent crime saves money. You would think that our illustrious austerity-coalition would be in favour of it.

It is surprising how many people favour longer prison sentences, as though they would solve anything. I'm not going to go in-depth with all the criminology, not least because I'm not a subject matter expert, but here are a few facts:
1) when there was a death sentence in this country, which was applied to a minority of convicted murderers, most murderers faced a prison sentence of around 14 years, which could be shorter if paroled.
2) Without denying personal responsibility for specific crimes, the commission of crimes in general is a social ill which can (and should!) be mitigated. For example the high proportion of offences to pay for drug addiction - if addiction is medically treated, then most of these offences should disappear.
3) I want to hit 2) again because it's really important. The law should rightfully come down like a ton of bricks against someone who is educated, who has had opportunities, and has chosen to commit crime; those whose education has been derisory, whose opportunities have been slim, whose upbringing has been damaging, should be given more help, and a chance to set themselves back on their feet, rather than punishment.

I am well aware that rehabilitation isn't nearly as emotionally satisfying as punishment, and so a policy of light sentencing, community sentences wherever possible, and well-funded probation services is likely to come across as "weak", "coddling criminals" and whatever else the tabloids want to fling at it.
The initial means to solve this which occurs to me is to fold the probation service into social services more generally; link any educational support targeted at failing students, with support for families that are struggling; help for the homeless; and so on - because a lot of social problems are linked, and so dealing with them all under the same heading seems sensible.

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