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Daily View: Prison reform

Clare Spencer | 09:15 UK time, Thursday, 1 July 2010

Commentators discuss Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's proposal to change the prison system.

Jonathan Aitken says in the Times [registration required] that prison works and that he welcomes Ken Clarke's changes, but urges rehabilitation:


"During my seven months in jail I learnt a great deal about the thoughts and motivations of prisoners. Going to jail is not seen as a particular problem - for many youngsters it is part of the pattern of estate life.
"But while they don't fear jail, they do relish the chance to go straight. This is the crucial characteristic recognised in Ken Clarke's bold new strategy for reducing reoffending. Throughout my sentence I spent two to three hours a day reading and writing letters for fellow inmates who struggled with literacy and communication problems - an experience that leads me to be highly supportive of the Justice Secretary's new approach. It is rooted in the practical 'rehabilitation revolution' promised in opposition policy statements.
"It makes good sense at the sharp end in terms of preventing crime and from the Treasury's perspective of cutting public spending. But delivering the strategy will require from ministers a remorseless attention to detail and a continuous exercise of political will to overcome the many obstacles."

Mike Pinblatt who is a prison officer at Risely prison in Cheshire told Shelagh Fogarty on the BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast phone-in that the proposal to divert funding to voluntary organisations is fundamentally flawed:

"These prisoners have already been through these voluntary organisations and probation orders and community service orders and they've failed

And prison is usually the last resort, so why do we throw money at these voluntary organisations when they've failed already?"

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Stephen Glover argues in the Daily Mail that Mr Clarke's suggestion that prison is a costly and ineffective way of dealing with criminals wasn't mentioned in the election campaign:

"Though it speaks of the importance of rehabilitating ex-prisoners (and which decent person wouldn't be in favour of that?).
"It does not suggest that putting criminals in prison is wrong. On the contrary, it criticises 'early release' practised by the Labour Government to ease pressure on prisons, and promises that, if elected, the Tories would 'redevelop the prison estate and increase capacity as necessary'.
"I presume Mr Clarke did not read his party's manifesto on which he fought the election, just as he once admitted - to his shame - that he had not read the 1992 Maastricht Treaty which created the European Union and paved the way for the euro."

Danny Kruger says in the Financial Times [subscription required] that "[s]uddenly the age of austerity is looking like the age of enlightenment":

"We might have expected a belt-tightening Tory-led government to get back to basics, scrapping innovation in favour of the core functions of the state. But the search for savings is prompting a reappraisal of how the state works, and no cows are sacred...
"Previous governments' failure to reform prisons is apparent in the atmosphere inside them. Walk through a prison in England at almost any time of day or night and what will you see? Not a lot. For most of the 24 hours, from teatime till breakfast and over lunch, prisoners are banged up in their cells: lying on their beds, watching telly, hatching plans to buy or sell this or that the next moment they see each other.
"The main thing to fear from jail is boredom and the sense of wasting time. The majority of prolific criminals, the ones who commit most of the crime, live lives of such chaos and danger that boredom is actually attractive - "going for a lie-down", they call it when they get sent to jail - and they feel their lives are wasted anyway. They are searching for containment, and for safety; for crack addicts, perhaps just somewhere they can get clean.
"This is not to say we shouldn't send serious criminals into custody. But we urgently need to make prisons places of activity and hard work, re-programming offenders to think and act differently next time they're out."

Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan suggests in the Telegraph an element of local decision-making should be put into dealing with criminals:

"One of two things would then happen. Either Kentish crooks (and crooks of Kent) would flood across the county border in such numbers that the people of Surrey elected a tougher sheriff. Or the people of Kent would get sick of funding the requisite number of prison places. At which point, their sheriff might decide on more imaginative solutions. He might, for example, decree that shoplifters should stand outside Bluewater with a placard saying 'Shoplifter'. I don't know what people would choose: that's the essence of localism. But I do know one thing: best practice would quickly spread, as people found cheapest and most effective ways to cut crime."

Zoe Williams says in the Guardian that the prisons should remain undemocratic:

"The point is that there is much more to a prison's success story than the trickle-down impact of a sentencing guideline. While there is endless talk about sentencing, the next stage - the bit where the sentence is served - is possibly the least politicised area of public spending. There are literally no votes in it. This has resulted in some fine institutions. Clarke says prisons are more expensive than Eton: many are also better. The government has more to learn from the prison service about governing than it has to tell it about imprisonment."

Links in full

Jonathan Aitken | Times | Prison works. It's outside that it all goes wrong
Daniel Hannan | Telegraph | Prison could work, but it isn't working now
Stephen Glover | Daily Mail | Clarke's prison policy reveals his monumental arrogance
Danny Kruger | Financial Times | Penal enlightenment for the age of austerity
Zoe Williams | Guardian | Prison costs more than Eton, does it? Perhaps some of them are better, too

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