Falconer is not the only member of the government at fault in this, although with his peculiarly porcine features and insufferable air of smugness he does represent a particularly entertaining target. John Reid and Tony Blair have also made public statements in favour of more and earlier releases. So too has Lord Phillips, the Lord Chief Justice.
Now, however, it has been revealed that a Home Office report has said what most people already knew: "Prison works":
Actually, I wouldn't be averse to seeing more such punishments, for minor first-time offenders. However, they certainly aren't a universal panacea.
Figures showed that 70 per cent of convicts jailed for under 12 months re-offended within two years, compared with 49 per cent of those sentenced to between one and four years and 36 per cent of those serving at least four years.
Researchers found that men and women released from prison within a year had on average 13 previous convictions – suggesting shorter jail sentences were failing as a deterrent.
Because these offenders were often hooked on drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine they repeatedly resorted to crime to fund their habits.
The report said prisoners released from longer sentences were less likely to re- offend because they were older, had time to be rehabilitated and had been convicted of more serious "one-off" offences.
The study, compiled in 2005 and 2006, looked at the reoffending rates of 45,100 criminals who walked free in 2003 – 15,300 from prison sentences and 29,800 who were given non-custodial sentences.
It found that criminals were more likely to re-offend if instead of prison they were given a community rehabilitation order or one of the Government’s flagship drug testing and treatment orders, which meant staying strictly drugs free.However, community punishment orders – where an offender is, for instance, forced to sweep the streets – were more successful than prison in tackling reoffending.
Neither is prison. But it certainly goes a lot further than most non-custodial sentences. And, we must remember, that aside from the need to deter there is also a need to punish. A rehabilitation order does not achieve real and significant punishment, prison does. And prison would work still better in terms of both punishment and deterrence if the criminals in there were actually treated as if they were there to be punished. At present, too many are not so treated.