Lewisham at the cutting edge of crime reduction

Lewisham is providing a test case for two areas of crime reduction policy. Firstly, in the value of community sentencing and secondly in one of the government's proposed reforms in its green paper on sentencing.

The ippr - once everyone's go-to think tank if they wanted to ingratiate themselves with the Labour government, now carving out a niche for itself examining the coalition's more progressive policies - has been studying Lewisham borough's offender population to test the case for prison reform. In a paper released last week, they argue that the evidence supports giving more offenders community sentences, rather than prison.

They say:

Using new data on those being released from prison and returning to live in Lewisham, this research shows that there are potentially very significant savings to the public purse if we reform the sentencing framework so that more people are given community sentences and fewer are sent to prison.

A total of 594 offenders were released into Lewisham in 2009/10 having served less than 12 months, at a cost to the state of £8.7 million, or an average of £14,710 per person.

241 people released into Lewisham served less than three months. Not sending those people to prison would have saved £1.3 million, or £5,590 on average per offender, in prison costs. If you still sent those who had committed violent offences from that group to prison, there would still be 194 fewer people going to prison, at a saving in prison costs of £1.1 million, or £5,655 on average per offender.

Reconviction rates from those given community sentences are 14 per cent lower than those released from custody, and a community sentence costs on average 12 times less than a prison sentence.

Also published last week, the Government's green paper on sentencing plans to introduce a "local incentive scheme" pilot roject in Lewisham and Croydon.

The paper says:

This model asks local partners to work together to develop a plan to prevent offending and reduce reoffending. They will then jointly commission innovative services to fill any gaps. They will be free to target their resources on specific groups of offenders in line with their local priorities and crime patterns. If they were able to reduce crime and hence demand for criminal justice services through their joint efforts they would share in any savings made. These could then be reinvested in further crime prevention activity at the local level.

With thanks to Mike.