A tough job at Justice

Chris Grayling

If the Conservative right see the appointment of Chris Grayling as a signal that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is going to re-adopt the slogan "prison works" then I think they may be disappointed.

The MoJ is in the middle of a programme of severe budget cuts and central to achieving the 26% savings is ensuring the prison population of England and Wales can be stabilised and, ultimately, brought down.

At the beginning of this year the population increased by 1,000 in a relatively short period which prompted a warning from the then permanent secretary at the ministry that unless demand eased, they would have to revisit their cuts plan. An increasing prison population was described as one of the "biggest risks the department faced".

So the new secretary of state will be told in no uncertain terms by his officials that the name of the game is to keep prison numbers down - not look to lock more people up.

Mr Grayling has very little room for manoeuvre: cuts of £350m to legal aid have been hugely controversial; slashing court and probation budgets still further simply to accommodate the cost of greater incarceration would be extremely unpopular, especially with the prospect of yet more public sector cuts to be announced.

New ministers Chris Grayling, Ken Clarke, Jeremy Hunt, and Theresa Villiers on their new jobs

Mr Grayling has said he is a supporter of what's called the "rehabilitation revolution" - looking at ways to prevent reoffending with "more effective" sentencing policies, particularly the use of restorative justice and robust community sentences delivered by the private and voluntary sectors on a payments by results basis.

That idea for a focus on reducing reoffending was a Conservative manifesto promise, it appeared in the coalition agreement and is still the number one priority for the department in its three year business plan published four months ago.

So my expectation is that Mr Grayling will perhaps change the tone of the ministry, but his options for a radical change in direction are extremely limited.

You may recall that Ken Clarke had originally proposed increasing the discount for offenders who pleaded guilty. The idea went down badly with the Conservative right in particular and the proposal was eventually dropped. That one change disrupted plans to reduce the prison population and save large sums, forcing the ministry to revisit cuts to other parts of the justice system.

As much as Mr Grayling's instinct might be to toughen sentencing rather than relax it, the plain fact is that punishment costs money. A lot of money. And money is something in diminishing supply at the MoJ.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    This is a little provacative.

    There are two ways of treating bad behaviour; you can punish or you can persuade. At the same time really harsh sentences persuade potential criminals not to do wrong and that would reduce the prison population as it did before soft sentencing.

    Persuading includes telling them what would happen if they re-offend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Wellingborough prison will be closed by xmas with the loss of 588 places.Peter Bone put up a good case to keep the prison open today at a hearing held at westminster hall.It is believed that with in two years G4S or Serco will take over the site on a PFI contract to run it and so charge the tax payer even more money over 25 years,
    RIP Wellingborough Prison.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    How tedious it is reading all the left liberal drivel about nasty Tories. Most of the country would like a far, far tougher penal system than the Tories would dare to bring in. Bring back Victorian standards I say, prison should be cold, hard, and hungry, and prisoners should fear the wardens not the other way around!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Whoever does the job will never be bale to do what really needs to be done becausse a majority of the British public are too thick to see that preventing reoffending is more important that "getting your own back".....

    ......prison does not work for the majority of offenders, only for those who cannot be rehabilitated who need to be kept safely locked away.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Prison only seems to work for those making big bucks out of running them. Why else would G4S be so keen on them? As for the prisoners, most have social ills rather than criminal ones. Prisons are only suitable for the recidivist crook and violent thug. Prisons don't work for debtors, or the mentally ill, or the inept. I'm hoping Chris Grayling will sort the "prison business" out once and for all.


Comments 5 of 35



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