Please note not all views expressed in the film and on the blog necessarily reflect the views of coalition members.
The self-fulfilling prophesy that's doubled our prison population,
demonised our young and costs us billions...
Welcome to the Fear Factory

Wednesday 30 June 2010

The Fear Factory: Jack Straw playing the law and order ‘arms race’

Press Release: 30 June 2010

The Fear Factory Coalition welcomes Ken Clarke’s proposals today made in a speech to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, echoing the views of The Fear Factory documentary which exposed ‘the tough talk fallacy that has led to the current crisis in the criminal justice system’ and revealed how crime and the fear of crime have been used by politicians contrary to the public interest for the last 30 years.

However, we are appalled by Jack Straw’s subsequent backlash in The Daily Mail which flies in the face of evidence. With a prison population of over 84,000 and a reoffending rate of 60% - rising to almost 95% for young males, his arguments that prison does work are nothing but fear mongering and an attempt to ratchet up the law and order ‘arms race’ for his own political ends.

The Fear Factory documentary includes contributions from Erwin James (ex-offender and Guardian columnist), Joyce Moseley (Director, Catch 22), Juliet Lyon (Director, Prison Reform Trust), David Howarth (ex Shadow Sec of State for Justice, Lib Dems), Dominic Grieve (ex Shadow Sec of State for Justice, Conservatives and now Attorney General), Maria Eagle (ex Minister for Justice, Labour), Chris Roycroft Davis (Ex Deputy Editor of the Sun), Paul Cavadino (ex Director of NACRO), Barry and Margaret Mizzen, Professor Rod Morgan (ex Head of the YJB) and Martin Narey (ex DG of the Prison Service and Director of Barnardo’s). The Fear Factory Coalition, inspired by the film has 57 member organisations. The consensus is clear: tough measures are not the same as effective measures, a point that Jack Straw deliberately seems to be missing.


• For further information and a list of coalition members contact Rachel Bird at / 020 7569 3039; or visit
• Excerpts and trailers can be found online, or we can provide a full copy on request.
• We have a comprehensive list of high profile speakers who would be willing to provide and interview or comment.
• Attached is a key list of quotes on the film, quotes from the film can be found online: Please feel free to use them but we politely ask you credit the film and where appropriate, link to this site.
• The Fear Factory film and Coalition have been generously funded by The Nationwide Foundation:

Monday 21 June 2010

AOPM Annual Conference - Plenary

Now entering the fourth year of operations, AOPM has become the driving force supporting volunteer Panel Members to achieve a sense of national identity and shared purpose.

We represent the community practitioners of a reintegrative approach to youth offending, on the basis that it is more likely to promote mutual respect, produce a meaningful dialogue and give young people a voice.

We continue to advocate restorative approaches to children in trouble with the law through panel meetings delivering support services and community sentences where, through willing participation, victims effectively become the jury and ensure that amends are made.

As representatives of civil society in the criminal justice system, we are keen to see greater integration of resources between the voluntary, third and statutory sectors towards a different direction for children caught up in criminality, but who are the most deprived and marginalised in our communities.

In Scotland’s Children’s Hearings system community volunteers meet with young people involved in crime - without the benefit of a prior criminal record – in order to nip offending behaviour in the bud. A criminal conviction is the major drawback of Referral Orders which, although spent on completion, is revealed through CRB checks to the detriment of future employment. (In the year to September 2009 over 125,000 CRB checks were made on under 18’s).

Moreover, a discretionary ‘Custody Threshold’ has meant that many young people, who pleaded guilty to a first time offence, were sent to jail instead of receiving a Referral Order. Although statistics of such sentences are not available from the YJB, a recent Barnardo’s report revealed that 95% of children incarcerated in 2006/07 had not committed a grave or serious offence, and 82% had not committed a violent offence against another person.

We therefore welcome the new measures from the Sentencing Guidelines Council that Referral Orders up to 12 months are mandatory for first time entrants pleading guilty to low level crimes, and that a court must state reasons why a community sanction is inappropriate when a custodial sentence is imposed. We also share the newly stated aim of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) to reduce criminalisation of young people, and continue to advocate that when issued alongside the Referral Order, Compensation Orders become spent on completion instead of after 30 months.

The Scottish tribunal model was adopted in Guernsey in 2009 and victims’ high involvement and satisfaction with the Northern Ireland system is in marked contrast with the present lack of involvement of victims in referral panels.

Despite the statutory basis of Panel Members’ role as practitioners of restorative justice, many of us long to see the day when the victims of young people’s crime routinely attend panel meetings, albeit inwardly apprehensive as to our ability to mediate effectively. Doubts arise from lack of RJ training and resources for volunteers, which AOPM has strived to redress since inception.

Following consultation on revised National Occupation Standards in RJ, Skills for Justice, the RJC and NPIA jointly launched the framework for a new qualification on 1st April 2010, open equally to employees and volunteers.
This represents immense progress and is a welcome commitment from government to the volunteer and third sector workforce (amounting to some 6million individuals), who service our most vulnerable young people. In addition, the YJB’s online college at the Open University is now accessible to volunteers, with easy access to learning materials for improving standards and consistency in youth offending panels.

In recent years, the increasing move away from local youth courts to a much more centralised system has meant that trial and sentencing of young people in courts can be outside their town, borough or county, whilst their schools, homes or care homes are no longer places of safety. At the same time the media-driven solution to youth crime is to remove young offenders out of sight and out of mind, leaving unaddressed their atrophied lives and collateral damage to victims and communities.

In marked contrast Panels lie at the heart of communities, enabling greater local accountability for those who commit crime in their youth, but statistically more often than not, will go on to live decent, law-abiding lives.

Neither a court of law nor a local authority committee, Panels provide local and accountable youth justice services to drive the changes so desperately needed by volatile young people, often struggling with literacy and communications deficits at a defining stage of their lives.

We look forward to a wider and increasingly effective role for Panel Members.

Sandra Beeton
June 2010

Monday 14 June 2010

Ken Clarke signals 'more sensible' prison sentencing policy

Prison reformers welcome justice secretary's claim that short prison sentences are ineffective in cutting reoffending rates
Ken Clarke arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on 8 June 2010

Ken Clarke questions why prison population is nearly double what it was when he was home secretary in the early 1990s. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

Prison reformers today welcomed what appeared to be a major shift in the approach to penal policy outlined by the new justice secretary, Ken Clarke, over the weekend.

The lord chancellor questioned why the prison population – at 85,000 – was nearly double what it was when he was home secretary in the early 1990s.

Clarke confirmed that he is looking for cuts in the £2.2bn prison budget and seemed to indicate that he did not regard short prison sentences as effective in cutting reoffending rates.

He acknowledged that members of the public were still "very, very worried about lawlessness" but said that their "fear of crime" is probably out of proportion to what they actually face.

"It's not to be soft on sentencing, it's to be sensible on sentencing, and bear in mind everybody who is sent to prison costs more than it costs to send a boy to Eton. So, all right, I'm all in favour of spending it when it's effective and justified, and that we will do. And we're looking at sentencing, not starting just from let's have more people in prison, let's have fewer people in prison … but what actually works, because the public are still very, very worried about lawlessness," the justice secretary said in a Sky News interview yesterday.

"What I'm looking at is, in this case, sentencing. Our first duty is to protect the public – there are some very dangerous and nasty people that need to be in prison," said Clarke.

"But why is the prison population twice what it was when I was the home secretary not so very long ago?"

The Conservatives went into the election pledging to match Labour's plans to build sufficient prisons to house 96,000 by 2014. The Liberal Democrats had a pledge to halt the prison building programme and urge the courts to use community punishments instead of short prison sentences. The coalition agreement split the difference by agreeing to take a fundamental look at sentencing policy, which the justice secretary outlined yesterday.

Clarke confirmed that he had to look for cuts in the justice ministry budget but he was to keen to take a more fundamental look than simply "salami slicing" budgets and saving a "bit of money here, and a bit of money there".

The move was welcomed by prison reformers. Jon Collins of the Criminal Justice Alliance said his comments were a welcome step forward: "At long last a politician is facing up to the unsustainable cost of our prison system. We simply cannot afford to keep building endless new prisons as more and more people are sent to prison at huge cost to the taxpayer," said Collins.

"Since Ken Clarke was last in charge of the justice system, the prison population has nearly doubled, warehousing thousands of people who could be dealt with more cheaply and more effectively in the community. Ken Clarke is right, keeping more of these people out of custody would save money and free up space and resources in the prison system to better rehabilitate those people who do need to be there."

But Conservative rightwingers disagreed: "It's very sad that somebody of Ken Clarke's calibre is talking such drivel. This is a ridiculous false economy – it saves money to have the most persistent criminals in prison," said Conservative MP Philip Davies.

"If short sentences do not work, the argument should be for longer sentences, not putting them out on the streets to terrorise communities."

The prison population stood at fewer than 45,000 when Clarke was home secretary in 1992-3.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Former head of prisons: short sentences don't stop reoffending

By Mark Hughes, Crime Correspondent

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Prison has no effect in stopping thousands of criminals reoffending and politicians should look again at whether it is a suitable punishment for minor crimes, the outgoing head of the prison service has said.

Phil Wheatley, who until yesterday ran all 140 prisons in the UK, said that offenders who serve sentences of six months or fewer are not being rehabilitated and on usually go on to commit further offences.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Wheatley also warned that, with the prison population continually rising against a backdrop of unprecedented public spending cuts, the Government will soon have to decide whether to build extra prisons or start releasing more prisoners early.

There are currently about 8,500 prisoners serving sentences of fewer than six months. Under current legislation they are eligible for release after half of their sentence and, because their sentence is less than a year, they are not given a probation officer.

Mr Wheatley, who leaves his post as director general of the National Offender Management Service (Noms), explained: "If you are using imprisonment to try to change the way someone thinks then you have got to allow time to allow someone to change.

"People who get short-term sentences – and many of them are doing relatively low-level crime like theft and shoplifting to fund a drug habit – often do not have much motivation to give it up. The real question is: are we making them better? Although we are doing our bit, we are not really making a significant difference to the way they reoffend.

"In real terms, if you get a short sentence you would serve half of it in prison. What can I do in, for example, two weeks with a person who is not very well-motivated to change?"

His argument is backed up by figures which show that prisoners released after less than 12 months go on to commit an average of three crimes each in their first year of freedom.

Instead, Mr Wheatley says that there is evidence to show that criminals given restorative justice penalties such as community service have lower reoffending rates than those given short-term jail sentences.

He added: "Anyone who says that short-term imprisonment does not work is perfectly accurate in saying that it does not have a therapeutic effect. Those who do community sentences do better than predicted. Short- term prisoners do worse than predicted. If you are looking for a therapeutic effect, there is not one for short-term imprisonment.

"My consolation is that we have achieved a therapeutic effect in longer-term prisoners and that is a major achievement."

Asked if the Government should scrap short-term sentences in favour of restorative justice penalties, he added: "In certain cases I can see what the thinking is behind it [short-term sentencing]. You could do away with it, but you would have to work out what was the right approach."

Mr Wheatley also warned that the current trend for judges to hand down indeterminate sentences – tariffs which in theory may never end – is stretching resources. He added: "It makes things more complicated because they will obviously only be released if we manage to reduce the risk of reoffending. If they do not prove that they are not a reoffending risk then their chances of getting out are zilch.

"It means that, of the resources we have available to reduce the reoffending risk, quite a lot of it goes on this group, a disproportionate amount. That's because, if we do not spend money on them, they will stay in prison forever – that is not humane to the individual and it is expensive to the taxpayer."

It does however mean that there is less money to spend on the rehabilitation of prisoners serving shorter sentences. Mr Wheatley said this was an unfortunate by-product: "We need to target the money to where it will make a difference. The danger is trying to spread it too thinly. If four people have an illness and 12 tablets will make one person better there is no point giving all four three each; that makes no one better."

Mr Wheatley joined the prison service in 1969, first as a prison officer, then a governor, and became director general of the service in 2003. His departure comes two years after the Prison Service merged with the National Probation Service and he became the first head of Noms.

He says that his decision to leave is due to the fact that, because in 2008 the job was put out to tender after two years, he was effectively being asked to re-apply for his own job, something he was not prepared to do at 62. He is replaced by Michael Spurr, previously the chief executive officer at Noms.

In Mr Wheatley's 41 years he has seen prison population rise from about 35,000 to 85,000 today. The increase, he says, is not down to crime rates, which are falling, but rather the tendency of judges to use prison sentences more frequently and hand down longer sentences.

He said: "At some point someone might decide they want to do something about that.

"It is not a problem for me, the jailer, because it gives me more customers and, just like the manager of Tesco, I do not mind having more customers. But we will need more prisons. If you do not do that you end up having to let people out early.

"The politicians have a choice: do they choose to build or do they choose to find a way of letting some prisoners out early? That is the political choice."

Case Study: 'Offenders don't need punishment: they need support'

Mark Johnson

"I remember the day I was released from my first prison sentence. I was 17 and had just served six months in Portland prison for assault. I was taken off the island on a minibus and put on the train back to Birmingham. I'd reoffended before I even got off the train.

"The first thing I did was buy four cans of Special Brew, take some amphetamine and smoke a spliff. While still on the train I robbed a young lad, took his money off him. The same night I went back to my mum's house and had stolen stuff from her house before I left the next morning.

"Within two months I was back inside after being caught selling cannabis. I did another four months and got out. A few weeks later I was in prison again for stealing a motorbike.

"I was a heroin and crack addict, but the prison service did nothing to rehabilitate me. It was a case of 'lock him up and he'll be gone in a few months'.

"But, in my opinion, I should have never gone to prison in the first place. All of my crimes were committed when I was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"I was a young lad in need of help, but I didn't realise it. The courts should have taken one look at me and proscribed some sort of alcohol or drug rehabilitation course. Instead they sent me to prison and somehow expected me to be a law-abiding citizen when I was released.

"The short spells in prison just taught me that I had to take from people or they would take from me. I continued that on the streets and my offending continued and my behaviour spiralled out of control.

"It wasn't until I enrolled myself on an intensive drug rehabilitation programme and realised that punishment was not what I needed – I needed help and support – before I finally realised what I was doing was wrong. But I had to do that myself. No one in the prison service appeared to recognise that."

The author is the founder of Uservoice, a charity involved in offender rehabilitation