Posts Tagged ‘prisons’

By all means let’s be tough on crime, but let’s also be principled

04/11/2011, 01:00:40 PM

by Matt Cavanagh

During my years working on prisons policy, I used to think that if the government was being attacked at the same time from left and right, that wasn’t a bad place to be (at least if we were being attacked from the right for being too soft, and the left for being too hard, rather than from both for being incompetent). When I see the new government finding itself increasingly in this predicament – attacked from the right wing media, former home secretary Michael Howard and Conservative backbenchers for being too soft, and from the Guardian and the left for being too hard – I am instinctively inclined to sympathy.

Where does Labour stand? When the sentencing bill was first published in June, Labour was very critical – and justifiably so. This was the Cameron government at its worst: the familiar pattern of early nonchalance, followed by last-minute panic, with a hasty, botched result. Not for the first time the mess was covered up by a bravura performance from David Cameron, good enough to fool the media on the day, but merely delaying the unravelling – as some of us predicted at the time.

In contrast to this, last week’s final changes to the sentencing bill looked like government, if not at its best, then certainly in decent working order. A substantial disagreement between two ministers, May and Clarke, each with a legitimate stake in the policy, was carefully brokered by Downing Street into a coherent and balanced package. Media coverage predictably focused on the Cabinet “split” and the “humiliation” of Clarke, who was seen as the loser – gleefully by the right wing media, sorrowfully by the left. In fact, this was a genuine compromise. Clarke lost some battles, but won others, more than his disillusioned liberal friends gave him credit for. He successfully defended the distinction between adult and youth sentencing for knife crime, even if at a lower cut-off age, and insisted that new mandatory life sentences for second convictions for the most serious violent and sexual offences – the so-called “two strikes and you’re out” sentences – would be very tightly defined. The main reason Clarke was seen as the loser was because he was so unguarded about his bargaining position; in other words, because he showed the kind of honesty the media say they want from politicians, but tend to punish when they get it.


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Criminal justice: Amanda Ramsay says a bad situation just got worse

21/10/2010, 11:30:27 AM

One comprehensive spending review (CSR) commentator dared to ponder: would Labour have landed a more Brown-like ‘clunking fist’ on George Osborne had Ed Balls been the shadow chancellor? No. The man of the moment for Labour was Alan Johnson and he did not disappoint, delivering a deft performance in response to the cuts.

Balls took to the post-announcement airwaves, making his mark as shadow home secretary, characteristically quick to challenge his opposite number, Theresa May, over huge 20% cuts to the policing budget, predicting “massive cuts in police numbers” and a “very dangerous situation for public safety.”
Add the 20% cuts to policing and the massive 23% cuts at the ministry of justice and public order and the social ramifications of the CSR loom enormous. Not that you would know this from either the mainstream or social media discussion.

Ahead of the game, the police federation had already described the anticipated wide-scale cuts in police numbers as heralding “Christmas for criminals”. Labour’s Tony McNulty, a former home office minister, was also quick to conclude that “these cuts, to the crown prosecution service (CPS), courts and probation, will have a huge impact on policing”. (more…)

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Let’s not join the Tories in going soft on sentencing, says Nick Keehan

06/10/2010, 10:30:49 AM

Ken Clarke played the hard man at the Tory conference yesterday. Prisoners will work a full forty hour week, he told them. “A regime of hard work” will teach them a lesson. It was what they wanted to hear.

He didn’t tell them that, under his watch, a wind of change has swept through the ministry of justice. No longer is there talk of ‘getting tough’ on ‘local crooks’. Instead, the ministry has taken to promoting the positive role that offenders are playing in their communities.

‘Where would we be without offenders?’ someone who reads MoJ press releases might ask. School children in Zambia would be using dangerous paraffin lamps (‘Offenders help students in Africa’, 14 June), and people in Wales would be having trouble remembering both Princess Diana (‘Offenders create fitting memorial to Princess Diana’, 31 August) and the 142 miners killed in the explosion at Old Black Vain Colliery at Risca in 1860 (‘Offenders uncover lost memorial to miners’, 29 September).

Even worse, one woman in east London would be without her handbag, had not a group of offenders doing community payback been there to chase her mugger and reclaim it (‘Offenders to the rescue as woman mugged’, 13 July). This is how the big society will work.  Police numbers will be cut and offenders, no longer crowded out by the big state, will step in and tackle crime themselves. ‘More offenders on the street’ is the pledge (‘Revolving door of crime and reoffending to stop says Clarke’, 30 June). (more…)

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We need a bang ‘em up motion on prisons next week

01/07/2010, 11:37:46 AM

Next Wednesday is an opposition day in the House of Commons.  This means that the opposition gets to choose the subjects for debate. Labour’s ‘usual channels’ have yet to determine what next week’s motions will be.

Uncut would like to venture a suggestion: the debate should be about prisons. The motion should be strongly worded, along the lines of Jack Straw’s article in the Daily Mail. The thesis can be summarised thus: prison works; bang ‘em up.

Our view is not based on the rehabilitative efficacy or otherwise of prison. It is tactical. (more…)

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Tom Copley is not happy being on Ken Clark’s side

01/07/2010, 11:07:18 AM

Agreeing wholeheartedly with a politician from an opposing party on a matter of serious policy can leave one feeling rather uncomfortable.  This is particularly the case when one’s own party has been spectacularly wrong on said policy over many years.  It was this unpleasant feeling that hit me when I heard that Ken Clarke, the Tory justice secretary, had launched an assault on the “bang ‘em up” prison culture of the last twenty years. (more…)

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