Khan’s reaction to new lags’ bedtime is tone deaf

by Kevin Meagher

As campaign slogans go: “Soft on criminals, soft on the bedtime of criminals” is hardly a winner.

But it nevertheless appears to be Labour party policy after Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan today described the government’s bid to introduce a new 10.30pm “lights out” policy in young offender institutions as a “gimmick”.

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, believes the move will help inmates (“most of whom have had chaotic and troubled lives”) by setting clearer boundaries and instilling some much-needed self-discipline.

According to today’s Independent, prison governors have been told to enforce the new policy from August. After 10.30, watching television – or reading under the covers – will be strictly banned and staff patrols will enforce the measure, including removing privileges from anyone breaking the new rules.

At the same time, however, Grayling also proposes to “more than double” the hours of education and training that under-18s in custody receive each week.

Khan’s – and Labour’s – response?

“Routine is crucial for those with chaotic lives, but to think that turning the lights off at the same time in every youth prison is all that’s needed to turn them all into law-abiding citizens is a joke,” he said.

“This looks like a gimmick to cover the cracks caused by Grayling’s cuts.”

“A joke?” Really? “A gimmick?” Was this response off-the-cuff? And who was Khan aiming it at?

Why did he not say something more balanced like: “Setting boundaries for young offenders is sensible and helps provide structure and encourage self-discipline; however Chris Grayling’s cuts to prison budgets means there are concerns about staffing these new arrangements.”

Of course, the politics of this intervention bears some scrutiny. Sadiq Khan hopes to become Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London and, not unreasonably, believes that party members in the capital are more liberal than the electorate at large. Perhaps this explains the tone of his reaction?

But he is also the party’s justice spokesman for the whole country. This intervention is disastrous – maddeningly so – in convincing middle ground opinion that Labour is fit to govern. What offer does the party now make to victims of crime when it appears to put the inalienable right of teenage criminals to watch Newsnight above victims’ concerns about justice?

Grayling’s move isn’t a return to the ‘short, sharp shock’ approach of the early 1980s. It’s about enforcing the kind of reasonable restrictions that most people probably think already apply in prison.

Still, Khan’s reaction was not as risible as the response of Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust. She actually said: “As most parents of teenagers know, common-sense discussion, constructive activity, setting reasonable boundaries and encouraging personal responsibility all work better than new hard-and-fast rules backed by petty restrictions and harsh punishments.”

Just deconstruct that for a minute. Prison officers are supposed to enter into “discussion” with inmates about when they go to bed? And a 10.30pm bedtime in prison is a “harsh punishment?” Has Ms Lyon actually seen Midnight Express?

Of course, if any of the lags had shown “personal responsibility” in the first place they probably wouldn’t have fetched up where they are.

But what’s so galling is that Khan, like many others on the liberal-left, don’t seem to understand that for young, non-graduate workers, a 10.30 bedtime after a hard day’s work would be entirely normal.

Grayling and the Tories must be laughing their heads off.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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4 Responses to “Khan’s reaction to new lags’ bedtime is tone deaf”

  1. swatantra says:

    The fact is Prison should not be a picnic, neither should it be a holiday camp.
    its more akin to a Public School; basically you do nas you are told; not so much routines but more so regimes. Lets stop making excises for lags. halfof them will return. We should make ir so that the option of getting a real job is better than returning to prison. It costs more to keep these lags in jail than it does to send them to Eton. If they had a tiring job stitching mail bags fro mdawn to dusk, then they’d be ready for noddyland at 10.30pm and sleep like a baby. Prison is a soft option for many at the moment.
    Khan is half right and half wrong.

  2. Tafia says:

    I’ve actually worked twice in prisons. Most prisoners are either illiterate/innumerate or very close to it – and when I say most, I mean most. As a result they are virtually unemployable and as a result if a prison sentence even more so. Little is done to address the issue except hand-wringing about repeat offenders.

    Most shouldn’t even be in prison – they seem to have literally fallen into it after a cascade of events starting with a relatively minor offence and then through either breaching a conditional discharge or failing to pay a fine or not attending community service/probation ending u in prison and at that point their life is mapped out.

    If you don’t teach them to read and write properly while they are in prison then you would have to be a total f***wit to expect they won’t re-offend. If the only option to living a life of unemployment is committing crime then commit crime they will and you would be stupid to think otherwise.

    Incidentally, from personal experience I can assure you the probation service is a sack of rat shit with very little control over it’s charges who routinely take the piss.

  3. swatantra says:

    Tafia is right, about the Education bit; it should be mandatory, either Key Skills for those with a reading age of 9, then progessing onto GCEs and Academic Qualification, but also Vocational qualifications, and Continuing Education for Adult Prisonners and those with Degrees. But the work element should also come into it. You have to keep them occupied but learning and active at the same time, preparing them for life outside. But I don’t agree with the excuses that they shouldn’t be in Prison because they have mental health problems or whatever; you have to contain them, and restrict their freedoms, because that is the role of the CJS, punishment. At the same time bring those Education Health and Rehab services inside the Prison Walls, so it becomes a reformative experience, and make it mandatory that they take up all these services whethder they like it or not. Its for their own good.
    Can we have an EDIT facility on this swebsite please?

  4. Tafia says:

    Swat – But I don’t agree with the excuses that they shouldn’t be in Prison because they have mental health problems

    Thanks for reminding me – I forgot about mental illness. I have to say that in my limited experience an unusual amount of them seemed to be mentally ill in some way. Whether that was the cause of their crimes or whether it was something that developed because of their incarceration I wouldn’t like to say. Another thing I forgot to mention was drugs – they were freely available inside up to and including heroin, with prison staff turning a blind eye because – to repeat what one senior officer told me, ‘while they are high they are quiet and easy to control’.

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