Last weekend, the Independent ran a piece on Michael Gove’s plans for prison reform in the UK. Gove has been inspired by the Texas model, where drug offenders are put on rehabilitation courses, instead of being locked up:
Mr Gove visited Texas last year to examine how a Republican programme has cut prison numbers by sending criminals on intensive courses to deal with drug abuse, alcohol addiction, and mental-health problems rather than sending them to jail.
Although Texas is not known for a progressive attitude to crime – the state retains the death penalty – its “Star” courts monitor offenders who can be treated, and will only send them to prison if they do not attend scheduled meetings or hit targets set by judges.
It appears that Gove’s proposal will dramatically reduce the amount of unnecessary convictions for drug related offences in the UK. Furthermore, the rates of prisoners developing drug addictions while incarcerated could potentially diminish as a result.
Although there have been clear reductions in offence rates since reforms were introduced in Texas, some are concerned whether or not Gove’s plans are feasible for the UK:
A senior prison reform campaigner said: “This will help reduce numbers, but it can only work with more direct sentencing reforms. The real driver of prison numbers is that the length of sentences has grown for people who commit more serious crimes. This is a political problem – ministers have to make it easier [for prisoners] to earn their release.”
There are concerns that the system could prove prohibitively expensive. There have been limited pilots of problem-solving courts in the past, notably in Liverpool, where it failed partly because of cost.
Nevertheless, Gove is committed to imposing reforms as soon as possible.
The proposed rehabilitation programmes for those convicted of drug offences could mark a move towards a more compassionate policy around drug use, with more effort made towards harm reduction as an alternative to punishment. Of course, time will tell.
The Telegraph covered Texas prison reforms in depth last October.
Read our Editor-in-Chief’s piece on David Cameron and drug reform.