Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has announced a major shake up to the way in which low risk offenders are dealt. This is to be welcomed, but neither he nor anyone else in high places seems to understand the real problem.
David Cameron has been much ridiculed over his concept of "big society" but he said sometime ago that he intended to tackle the problem of the criminal underclass, although he didn't actually use that phrase.
The bottom line is that in Britain as in most other industrialised nations, there is a hard core of people including entire families who are responsible for the majority of crime and what we might call general nastiness, at the bottom end of society. In the United States, these people are derided as trailer trash - when they are white. Most of the problems with young blacks in this group - erroneously alluded to as racism - stem from the same sources. Namely, these are young men and women, often very young, who have poor education, perhaps even poor literacy, other bad habits, and worse by far, criminal records.
It is very easy for respectable people to deride them as three time losers, undesirables and such, but like alcoholism, drug abuse or anorexia, unless you've actually been there, you can't understand the problem yourself. The major problem with most of these people is that they are unable to earn a livelihood, because no employer in his right mind would employ them or even wish to employ them, certainly not in the current climate where employers can pick and choose. As automation replaces even more unskilled jobs and as more and more is produced by a shrinking workforce, this problem (no, it is not really a problem) will grow worse unless it is tackled in the right way.
Today, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has announced a measure that has long been in the pipeline, that of making a concerted attempt to rehabilate these lost souls. On their discharge, offenders will be met at the prison gate by private companies and charities who will mentor them, assisting them to break alcohol and drug habits, and even finding them somewhere to live.
As Grayling himself said: "What we do at the moment is send people out of prison with £46 in their pocket, and no support at all". Recognising this as a recipe for trouble he added, "It is madness to carry on with the same old system and hope for a different result."
As it is, which begs the question why has no one apparently realised this before?
Obviously not everyone is happy with this approach, including Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan and many people who work in the probation service.
Clearly though something has to be done, and here we are talking about the small fish. Prisoners released from longer sentences are generally given more support to reintegrate themselves into the community, and those who are considered potentially dangerous are not treated with kid gloves.
What is needed though is something seemingly even more radical. Instead of paying the private sector to reform undesirables and unemployables, wouldn't it make more sense simply to pay these people themselves as long as they stay out of trouble?
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