Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron is making international headlines by proposing a stark austerity plan to cut the national deficit. To appreciate just how “savage” (the term used by Nick Clegg, Cameron’s coalition partner) the cuts will be, consider that Rick Perry asked all Texas agencies to submit scenarios for cutting spending by 10% – but Cameron has formally asked British agencies to cut spending by 25%. Skeptics may wonder whether the zealous cost-cutting will have disastrous effects on public safety. Does Cameron really suggest that the Ministry of Justice should cut its budget too?

Yes. Cameron proposes a less expensive criminal justice system, but that does not mean he intends to compromise public safety. In fact, his plan shows every indication of making people safer. Cameron noted that incarceration for some non-violent offenses does not prevent recidivism, so he suggested a different approach: the “Big Society.” The idea calls for a larger role for community supervision and a reduced role for the state. His most innovative proposal would provide financial incentives for non-profits whose rehabilitation and reentry programs reduce offender recidivism, thereby rewarding results and spreading success.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke noted that while the primary goal should be justice, “we certainly shouldn’t ignore the fact – the taxpayer certainly doesn’t – that it costs more to put someone in prison for a year than it does to send a boy to Eton. The taxpayer is providing keep and accommodation for Her Majesty’s guests – in grossly overcrowded conditions – at expensive hotel prices for 85,000 people.” If Clarke winces at the price tag for accommodating 85,000 British inmates, he would be flabbergasted to see what Texas pays to accommodate a state prison population of 155,000.

British conservatives clearly care about reducing crime, but they have found a way to do it that is sensitive to the United Kingdom’s deficit problem. If they succeed, they will have proven that one can be tough on crime without being tough on taxpayers.

– Vikrant Reddy