Monday, 30 September 2013

Howards Way: Chris Grayling follows Michael not John

Chris Grayling’s speech to the Tory Party conference had more than an echo of Michael Howard’s twenty years ago. We were fortunate not to have the 27 pledges Howard promised back in 1993. I make it 16 in Graylings speech if you include what he’s done, what he’s planning to do in the next 18 month and what he’d  do if the Tories form a government in 2015 .

His claim that prison works could have been taken word for word from Howard’s speech:  “{Prison} takes the most difficult and prolific offenders off our streets and protects our hard working, law abiding citizens. It sends a strong message about what our society is willing to accept, and what it is not willing to accept.”

True, Grayling’s world is not all about punishment and he does believe in people’s ability to change. He understandably skated over the substantial challenges he faces in  “pushing through the most radical changes to the way we rehabilitate offenders for a generation.”

But there is a lot about punishment in Grayling’s “end to soft justice”. Dispiritingly, he opened with a tale of two young offenders being sent to a segregation unit for some infraction or other. He seems to want prisoners to stay inside for longer; to pay fines for any damage they cause and  to have to earn any privileges (which cannot include Sky TV) . He doesn’t think they should to get legal advice if they want to make a serious complaint about their treatment.

I am not sure whether Grayling  reads reports of the Prison Inspectorate and Monitoring Boards but presumably his department has warned him about the risks of introducing more sticks and removing carrots as staff are being cut . He will ignore them because for him  the point of a punitive culture in prisons is not just about the impact it has on prisoners- it is to provide “ a system that hard working, law abiding people can have confidence in.”

This is a dangerous road to go down, which can all to easily end in what  retired Law Lord described (in respect of one of Michael Howard’s decisions) as  “institutionalised vengeance”.  Its all the more worrying when combined with a plan to weaken legal protections and safeguards. Grayling scorned the all too familiar yob’s catchphrase ‘I know my rights’” as if such people should not have any.

The next two days the Howard League is holding an important conference called “What is Justice: Re-imagining Penal Policy”. I somehow doubt that Mr Grayling will be sending his advisers. More’s the pity. 

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