Law and policy round-up: three points about Cameron’s prisons speech

9th February 2016

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Prisons policy

Yesterday was a busy and perhaps significant day for prisons policy.

The Prime Minister gave a speech devoted to the subject.  The speech was even trailed with two government announcements here and (on treatment of pregnant women in prison) here.

Frances Crook of the Howard League gave the speech a cautious welcome and Ellie Dunt, also of the Howard League, correctly observed that the most significant thing about the speech was that the Prime Minister was giving it.

There are three things worth noting about the speech and what may be behind it.

First, prisons are expensive even if “law and order” rhetoric is cheap. Wise politicians realise this and know that the current approach to prisons policy is financially unsustainable, regardless of what lines voters and tabloids clap along with.  The current policy also makes no real sense from a crime prevention perspective and is best seen as one devised by a mischievous demon.

Second, there is a move in right wing thought against custodial sentences as the default punishment for crime, especially in the United States.  (I wrote about this in 2013 at the FT.)  This development in right wing thought may be having an influence on Michael Gove.

Third, if such a speech is indeed the political price Micheal Gove has extracted from David Cameron for support on the EU referendum issue, then it is a good bargain.

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One thought on “Law and policy round-up: three points about Cameron’s prisons speech”

  1. In 1993 Michael Howard asserted that ‘prison works’, but increased costs by increasing security systems and encouraging courts to lengthen sentences . In 2010 Ken Clarke redefined what it means for a prison to work and sought a modest reduction of prisoners by 3,000 each year.

    Now David Cameron has reasserted that ‘working’ should mean the continual reduction of the numbers of people who are the victims of crime, the continued incapacitation of prolific offenders, a reduction in the average cost per head of prison places and effective efforts to prevent reoffending. His formula for success is to improve prison management and prisoner education. Both of these are worthwhile, but it hardly adds up to an effective and well considered strategy for justice in prisons, or in society. That strategy should include a suitable number of small community based, but secure short stay facilities, along with long term individualised personal support for repeat offenders on their release.

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