Thursday, 14 July 2016

Prisons should be tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable places: our new Justice Secretary's view of the world

Back in February, David Cameron set out why he believed prison reform should be a great progressive cause in British politics. It was certainly a top priority for his Justice Secretary Michael Gove, but in truth despite warm words and myriad reviews, virtually no progress was made before the careers of both men came to an end this week. What are the prospects of the reform agenda being pursued by the new management?

It’s unlikely that six years in the Home Office will have sharpened Mrs May’s appetite for a policy based on redemption and rehabilitation. But what of Elizabeth Truss, the woman May today appointed to succeed Mr Gove?

While she has been described as socially liberal, five years ago Truss co-authored a book called "After the Coalition: A Conservative Agenda for Britain". This argued  the need to "reverse the tide of soft justice", complaining that some judges have declined to jail criminals on human right grounds and that punishment in the justice system is too often a dirty word. Ms Truss and her colleagues were also “not ashamed to say that prisons should be tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable places”. They wanted persistent offenders sentenced for prolonged periods, praying in aid Howard League research on the ineffectiveness of short prison terms. They also proposed privatising all prisons.

So far, so discouraging. But differing policy views notwithstanding, one of the other authors of the book, Dominic Raab found himself able to work with Mr Gove over the last year, although not directly on prisons. Raab has recently been looking at sentencing reform, apparently more constructively than his 2011 views might suggest.

Let’s hope Ms Truss has had a similar change of heart and will not throw the Gove reforms into reverse before they have got out of first gear . There was perhaps likely to be a lot less to the reality of those reforms than was being promised. But at least the terms of the debate framed by the last government were positive ones. Conservative governments  have often swung between progressive and hard line responses to crime and offenders: Brittan v Hurd, Clarke v Howard, Grayling v Gove.  Where will Ms Truss fit?   


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  3. I hope Ms Truss will had a change of heart and will not throw this reforms into reverse. It`s too important to government.
    I have found some interesting material about prisons, that shows the present situation
    What do you think about this?