Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deliver the Goods

There must be a few Tories right now who are thinking they were right: you just can't trust a man who wears brown hush-puppies.

If I recall, when I previously mentioned Ken Clarke I characterised him as being 'mostly harmless' as a Home Secretary. This was confirmed when Michael Howard took over and promptly kicked us in the face.

The new political landscape held a little promise for prisoners but I'm cynical enough not to expect much. My threshold of hope was set quite low - all I hoped for was that whichever loony was installed as Justice Secretary would have their baser instincts tempered by their coalition partners. I expected prisoners to get a kicking, but maybe the Tories would swap their hobnail boots for slippers before they laid into us.

So Ken Clarke's newly revealed position on prisons took me, and my peers, by surprise. A Tory who doesn't bow before the gates of Wormwood Scrubs is something we haven't seen for a very long time. Only old hands such as myself can dimly recall some chap called Kurd, who declared that “prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse”. Nearly two decades of abuse at the hands of politicians obscures that halcyon day.

Fair do's on Ken, though. He's said his piece and survived - that was the first, most important, hurdle. Now he's got to deliver and that is going to take more than resisting the urge to bang people up.

To place this “rehabilitation revolution” in perspective, though, it should be noted that it isn't that the discourse has altered. It's just that Clarke signals that declared policy is going to be actually delivered, not merely parroted. Prison should be restricted to serious criminals, those who do pose a genuine threat of harm. Who would ever, or has ever, baldly declared that prison is the sensible disposal for shoplifters and fine defaulters? Yet such people - often women - are banged up in droves. Merely delivering, then, on the policy that prison is for the violent will be a promising beginning.

Insisting that prisons, and prison staff, deliver rehabilitation would be another step forward. The official purpose of prison has been nailed to each Gatehouse for a generation and yet there is rarely more than a sparse and sporadic effort to meet the aspiration. Political interest in prisons ends at the Gate; the only time anyone pays attention to inside the wall is when we are on the roof throwing slates. The broad idea of restricting imprisonment to those who need to be segregated from society and, whilst in prison, delivering genuine rehabilitation would indeed be a 'rehabilitation revolution’.

Clarke has demonstrated that he is able to face down vested interests out there - the Tory Right and the tabloids - and I can only hope that he can bring the same strength of will to a more dangerous enemy - the vested interests within. The lazy prison staff who suck from the taxpayers teat and do little more than bleat how dangerous their job is (it isn't), whilst refusing to address the 60% re-offending rate. Just what are they being paid for, exactly?

There are two sides to the revolving door of prison and a Justice Minister who addresses both the internal and external forces will be a political animal to be admired. And one I've yet to see.


  1. Ken Clarke and his 'rehabilitation revolution' gives us some grand words and ones usually associated with the left, but is presently doing no more than making us make the decisions about who should be and who should not be locked up.

    Despite me warning about this and the trap that it is, I still fell foul in my last comment on this blog, a comment that I would prefer to have not made altogether and now regret most of its content.

    Most politicians and Ken Clarke included are spineless, they are only in it to save money and maintain their class privileges. They do this by dividing the people who they rule over as much as possible. Now they are in the game of a pretend co-option and co-operation. They are a weak government with no clear mandate from the population and are acting in a very vicious overall manner.

    If Ken Clarke wants to set people free from prison because they have done way over their time then lets see him do it. Like now. Simple.

    Here is a quote that helped me to put this stuff into perspective, from Eugene Debs:-

    "While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it: while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

  2. Well said SophieJ - add to your quote is this one "It takes good people doing nothing for evil to triumph!" Which side does Ken Clarke belong to? The devil rules his class,and he certainly is spineless as a jelly fish. Am proud of those guys like you who keep up the fight for our class in and outside prison, and hope you had fun today. Happy birthday comrade! X


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