Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Tough and Unpleasant: New Minister's Views on Prisons

Dominic Raab, new Minister  at the MoJ, is best known for his views on human rights, set out forcefully in his 2009 polemic The Assault on Liberty. Repealing the Human Rights Act will be his main task but his views on penal policy are noteworthy none the less.

In his book, Raab observes that prisoners have benefited more than most from new categories of human rights "foisted on Britain contrary to the wishes of parliament". He appears to think that the executive should have the power to veto the release of criminals on the grounds of public safety and seems unimpressed by judgments allowing prisoners to practice paganism in their cells or have access to fertility treatment. But Raab also argues that “the prison regime has called out for reform for years- to better prepare offenders for release into the outside world.”

Optimism about what that might entail evaporates quickly while reading another book Raab co-authored after the 2010 election, along with (among others)now fellow ministers Liz Truss and Priti Patel.  After The Coalition: A Conservative Agenda for Britain argues that we need to "reverse the tide of soft justice". According to Raab, some judges have declined to jail criminals on human right grounds and punishment in the justice system is too often a dirty word.

There is an unwelcome belief according to Raab that prisoners should be treated in prison in a way that reflects the normal life of freedom that all citizens generally enjoy. He and his colleagues “are not ashamed to say that prisons should be tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable places”. They want persistent offenders sentenced for prolonged periods, praying in aid Howard League research on the ineffectiveness of short prison terms. Raab would also privatise all prisons.

Five years on Raab might take the view that prisons are now sufficiently unpleasant places. But his controversial views surely make the case for some form of pre-appointment scrutiny for would be ministers. The public have a right to know ministers' views about the areas for which they will have responsibilities, direct or indirect, and whether they are suitable candidates. In Raab’s case, I have my doubts.

1 comment:

  1. This appointment seems to support the notion that Cameron was fully behind the illiberal and dangerous policies of Grayling, McNally, Wright, Selous and Simon Hughes all along rather than he was just appointing folk to fill vacancies that needed filling.

    We lost the argument about what works and is financially cheaper years ago - I guess we will just have to hope for the best that when then real crises in social order come they are manageable and the deaths are minimal.