A TORY MP has called for prison reform with offenders able to reduce their sentences by carrying out literacy courses.
Hexham Tory Guy Opperman, a former criminal barrister, is urging special literacy and drug rehabilitation courses behind bars to equip prisoners for life on the outside.
And passing the courses could be used as an incentive for early release from sentences.
Mr Opperman says the current system is “a recipe for disaster” with around 70% of prisoners re-offending upon release because jails are “a short-term fix, not a long-term solution”.
Mr Opperman, 47, has made the call as he publishes his first book, Doing Time – an analysis of the problems in the UK prison system.
The MP said: “Prison for years has failed to change the prisoner’s behaviour.
“It is a disappointing fact of our prison system that, under the last government, released prisoners had a re-offending rate of approximately 70%.
“Our justice system needs to command the respect and confidence of the public. Repeated polling also shows that the public wants prison to be more effective at changing prisoners’ behaviour.
“It wants government to knuckle down, make prisons work, and tackle re-offending rates.
“My view is that in simply locking people up, and then releasing them, illiterate, with no basic skills, still often addicted to drugs, and with little work experience, we have created a recipe for disaster.”
In the book, Mr Opperman says that in his experience as a barrister before becoming Hexham MP in 2010, the “sad reality” was that few clients facing charges were able to give meaningful written instructions.
“Too often my clients in prison simply could not read or write. It was very humbling,” he says.
“Many criminals are released early and we know that attaining this motivates those in jail to behave.
“If we allow judges to sentence criminals to literacy courses we can harness that motivation to give them the basic skills that will make them less likely to offend again.”
Mr Opperman also wants to see every offender drug-tested upon admission to prison and mandatory treatment programmes for known users.
Drug-free prison wings should be created to help offenders get ‘clean’, with completion of drug treatment programmes then a possible doorway to early release.