Labour’s useless prison policyMay 12, 2008 at 9:25 pm | Posted in British Politics, New Labour, Prison Reform | 3 Comments
Tags: Cherie Blair, Penal Reform, Prison Reform
A cell in Borstal, taken by Flickr user Flipsy (Creative Commons)
Whilst the weekend papers were regurgitating the ‘revelations’ in Cherie Blair’s autobiography (did you know Gordon & Tony don’t really get on? Yeah, I was stunned too!), the former Prime Minister’s wife was plotting to make an even more audacious attack on his successor. Why, you might ask, didn’t this feature prominently on Andrew Marr’s Sunday show or get plastered across the tabloids as a ‘Bollocking For Beleaguered Brown’? Well, probably because she was attacking him on a matter of substance.
Mrs Blair/Booth has a Marmite effect on a lot of people, but whether you love or loath her, she still retains a zeal for safeguarding civil liberties that no Labour Home Secretary can hold a candle to – speaking out against Guantanamo when Tony was too timid and even criticising her husband’s anti-terror initiatives. Plus, as one of the top lawyers in the country, it helps to hear from someone who knows what they’re talking about to balance-out the grasping little shit-for-brains who do the governing.
Sure, her condemnation of Labour’s forthcoming ‘factory farm’ megajails would’ve probably been framed by the press as an attack on Brown by a key consort to King Tony, but I hope the less vacuous among us will take what she says seriously.
With the prison population at about 82,000 and rising – reaching a level of overcrowding that’s forcing some to ignore basic safety rules – the government’s had some serious thinking to do: either its approach to crime is a sham of obsessive-compulsive legislating that tackles none of crime’s route causes or… more and more people are becoming evil.
Naturally, the government decided that more and more people are becoming evil and that this explosion in evildoing must be met by building Titan prisons – great, heaving warehouses of sin and bad hygeine where the inmates are fed wallpaper paste and are only released so they can beat each other with baseball bats for the benefit of Jeremy Kyle. I’ll let Ms Booth QC make the argument against:
‘With reoffending rates as high as they are, prisons, in general, seem to fail to protect the public,’ she said
‘The distance of the new Titan prisons will make it very difficult for many families to visit,’ Blair said. ‘The sheer numbers to be held within them will also make it more difficult to offer individualised treatment.’
Those prisoners who do not receive adequate treatment, Blair said, would remain ‘unreformed’, often illiterate, addicted to drugs and no longer in contact with their families. As such, they are ‘much more likely to reoffend. They will, in other words, pose a real threat to public safety.’
Now despite evidence to the contrary, Labour’s policy people weren’t born stupid; indeed, they acknowledged long ago that one of the best ways of improving standards in schools was to cut class sizes. Yet somehow they’ve managed to reach the opposite conclusion on prisons: that by increasing prison capacity, they’ll be able to imprison more evil doers and cut the level of reoffending. Welcome to dreamland. Here’s how Frances Cook, director of Penal Reform group The Howard League, responded to Cherie’s criticisms:
The Titans are causing widespread concern across the criminal justice sector, given all the evidence suggests that small, local jails with good staff-prisoner relationships are more effective at cutting reoffending.
It’s not rocket science. If you have a small prison with a high staff-to-inmate ratio, if you fill that prison with educators, psychologists, drug therapists and skills councillors to tackle the problems they entered prison with, if you make their time inside so constuctive that they’re better-equipped to become law-abiding citizens, then there’s a good chance that less of them will reoffend. Don’t just take my word for it either; why not try listening to the experiences of ex-prisoners themselves – people who have a fairly decent idea of what it’s like inside and of what might be needed to make these places more conducive to rehabillitation. Oh, and whilst we’re at it, give them the fucking right to vote.
Okay, the government’s too timid to attempt progressive reform because it’s utterly petrified of being seen as ‘soft’ by the right-wing press. But the problem with that excuse is that Britons’ fear of crime keeps rising every year, even though crime keeps falling and nary a month goes by without the government introducing some new ‘crackdown’ or ‘get tough’ approach. So if you can’t assuage people’s fears by whipping yourself into a legislative frenzy, perhaps its time we tried a different, more sensible approach and exhibit a bit of what Mrs Blair calls ‘joined-up thinking.’
The irony of all this is that many of these problems were compounded during the Premiership of Cherie’s husband. Even so, there are so few high-profile advocates for penal reform that it’d be madness to exlude one of the most well-credentialled lawyers in the land. At least one of the Blairs is doing something positive since leaving Downing Street.