It's cheaper to let thugs out to commit crimes than to keep them in jail, says British probation boss

If justice and protection of the community is too expensive for Britain, it's time Britain cut back on other things -- like its vast bureaucracy

The public may have to put up with being the victims of serious crime to save money, a Government inspector said today. Andrew Bridges, chief inspector of probation, warned that it costs £80million a year to keep 2,500 of the country's most dangerous inmates behind bars.

The convicts have served the minimum sentence given by the courts but are being kept locked up for 'public protection'.

Mr Bridges predicts they could commit as many as 40 further serious crimes a year between them if released - a category that includes murder, manslaughter and rape.

But the inspector, who is supposed to monitor whether probation officers are effective, said the public must ask whether spending £2million a year to prevent each crime is value for money.

He asked: 'Is the public prepared to accept the "cost" of having more prisoners managed in the community to achieve what could be substantial financial savings? Grownup choices need to be made.'

Critics questioned whether it is part of Mr Bridges's 396,000-a-year job to make such remarks. David Green, director of think-tank Civitas-said: 'I would have thought the probation service is sufficiently dysfunctional for him to find enough to do without adding to its problems by calling for the release of 2,500 dangerous criminals. 'In the end it does not come down to costs, it comes down to justice and public protection. He has taken a narrow view of this, a shallow view.'

In his annual report, published today, Mr Bridges, also said that, under the last Government's early release scheme, around 30,000 convicts per year were released 18 days before their sentences reached the halfway point. On average, 500 of them committed a total of around 600 further offences during that period.

He said the cost of keeping 30,000 people in custody for around a fortnight is £48million - giving a figure of around £80,000 to prevent each offence. In other words, he argued, we are locking up 59 people who may not need to be behind bars in order to imprison one who is going to offend in that 18-day period.

The final figures for Labour's so called End of Custody Licence scheme actually show 81,578 prisoners were released up to 18 days early between 2007 and its abolition earlier this year - including more than 16,000 violent offenders. In all, 1,234 of them committed a total of 1,624 new offences during the time they would normally have still been locked up - including at least three murders.

This is despite the fact that the offences committed by the 80,000 inmates given early release between 2007 and the abolition of the scheme earlier this year included at least three murders.

Mr Bridges said he wanted to start the debate 'despite the difficulties in measuring reoffending, and in isolating what makes it more or less likely to happen'. His report adds: 'At a time when public expenditure is under especially close scrutiny it would be wise to consider the price paid for this rather drastic form of crime prevention, both financially and otherwise.'

Simon Reed, of the Police Federation, said: 'What price can we put on justice? I thought part of the criminal justice system was to punish and rehabilitate. It appears to be doing neither.'

Matthew Elliott, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: 'Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is already spent on imprisoning those who have broken the law. 'It is insulting to victims of crime and law abiding taxpayers who pay for the prison system to suggest that the public should accept an increase in crime if they want savings to be made.

'Our prison system needs urgent reform, and a good place to start would be to cut wasteful spending, such as giving inmates luxuries like Sky TV, before telling taxpayers to put up with more crime.'


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).

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