I want to tell you a story about a young man, who I will call ‘T’. T is a 23 year old father of one who has spent the last few years in prison for drug dealing offences. T was a very, very good drug dealer and made a lot of money. He is one of the best salesmen I have ever met, puts his focus on customer service as the highest priority and knows how to build a brand. When I met T and we went through a process to turn his life into one of good, honest work, he said to me that he felt the one thing missing in life was a sense of worth, of fulfilling his potential.
I arranged, through a wonderful charity called Key4life who introduced me to T, for him to attend a couple of 3-day work tasters, one of which was with a city insurance giant. They saw in T his potential, his work-ethic and his business acumen, and he is now successfully working his way up in the company from the bottom-up. Most importantly, T is no longer a drug dealer and is now part of the legal economy. He’s now making money in the London economy, instead of being a burden on the justice system.
Traditionally, the Conservative party has been seen to be the ‘tough on crime’ party, and it is a reputation many of us are proud of. Standing up against the hordes of criminals, evil-doers who carry out immoral actions, with no care about the impact they have on innocent people. As a victim of a burglary a few months ago, I too have experienced first-hand the feeling of suffering at the hand of a criminal.
However, my experience with the Key4life charity and T, along with other young offenders, made me realise that ‘making crime pay’ is an ineffectual strategy, if it doesn’t solve the root cause issues and give people who have made mistakes opportunities to find a future other than crime. Offenders have a 74% chance of re-offending, which costs Britain between £9.5 - £13 billion a year. The Key4life charity and other mentoring programmes have successfully reduced reoffending to as low as 18%. Even taking into consideration costs of the programme and the fact that around a third of criminals will be in prison for offences which make them unsuitable for these programmes, there is potential to reduce the costs of reoffending in Britain by up to £6 billion a year.
Let’s not forget some of the other economic and cultural costs to Britain. The chairman of BT, Sir Mike Rake, recently spoke on Radio 4 on the need to keep people out of prison and in work, where there is a shortage of skilled labour. Also, men consist of 95% of inmates, and out of the British national prison population, 11% are black and 6% are Asian. For black Britons this is significantly higher than the 2.8% of the general population they represent. Therefore, our failure to address the causes of offending shows our failure to resolve issues in inequality and issues for men in general. I have no doubt at all that the same issues causing men to be the main perpetrators of crime are also the same issues which are causing suicide to be the main cause of death in men under 40 whilst also accounting for the recent collapse in men’s performance in education.
Michael Gove and his proposals to reform the justice system are an excellent step forward. We must not oppose them simply because we ‘want to see criminals punished’. We must support and celebrate his policies if they can resolve this huge cost to our society.
Nicholas Mazzei is a Conservative activist and an ex-army officer.
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