By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday Justice Secretary Ken Clarke presented his Green Paper on Criminal Justice, “Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders”. ConHome has already covered some of the announcements contained therein here and here, but here are some of the highlights of what Mr Clarke said in presenting the Green Paper to the Commons and the reaction he got from Tory backbenchers.
"Of course, criminals must face robust and demanding punishments. This means making them work hard both in prison and in the community. More prisoners will face the tough discipline of regular working hours. This has been lacking in most prison regimes for too long. Community sentences will be more credible, with more demanding work and greater use of tough curfew requirements. There will be greater reparation to victims through increased use of restorative justice and by implementing the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996. We will bring forward other changes to make sure that more offenders directly compensate the victims of crime.
"But we will take a new approach to the reform of offenders. I regard prison first and foremost as a place of punishment where people lose their liberty as reparation for what they have done, but on top of that, prison cannot continue to be simply an expensive way of giving communities a break. We must give higher priority to ensuring that more prisoners go straight on release.
"Offenders will face a tough and co-ordinated response from the police, probation and other services. It will mean that they must either address the problems that fuel their criminal activity or be caught and punished again."
"The sentencing framework must provide courts with a range of options to punish and rehabilitate criminals and keep the public safe. The sentencing framework has developed in an ad hoc fashion recently, with over 20 Acts of Parliament changing sentencing in the past 10 years. This has left it overly complex, difficult to interpret and administer, and hard for the public to understand. We need to make better use of prison and community sentences to punish offenders and improve public safety, while ensuring that sentencing supports our aims of improved rehabilitation and increased reparation to victims and society. We will therefore simplify the sentencing framework in order to make it more comprehensible to the public and to enhance judicial independence. We will reform community orders to give providers more discretion, and we will encourage greater use of financial penalties and improve their collection."
"Let me assure the House that public safety remains our first priority. We will continue to ensure that serious and dangerous offenders are managed effectively and their risk is reduced through appropriate use of prison and then through the multi-agency public protection arrangements… Any adult who commits a crime using a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and serious offenders can expect a long sentence. For juveniles, imprisonment is always available and will also be appropriate for serious offenders."
There were some voices of considerable scepticism from some Tory MPs sitting behind him:
Philip Davies (Shipley): Last year, 3,000 burglars and 4,500 violent criminals with 15 or more previous convictions were not sent to jail, and people with more than 100 previous convictions who came before the courts were more likely not to be sent to jail. They reoffended not because they went to prison, but because they did not go to prison. How on earth can my right hon. and learned Friend accept the figures that his Department has issued and say that too many people are going to prison? Most people would look at those figures and conclude that too few people are going to prison.
Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I notice that my Conservative Secretary of State says: “Prison cannot continue to be simply an expensive way of giving communities a break.” I am sorry, but communities deserve a break—they deserve a break from being burgled. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that on his watch, people who cause absolute misery by thieving from people’s homes, particularly those of elderly people, can expect to go to prison, where they deserve to be?
Philip Hollobone (Kettering: Last year, more than 20,000 offenders with 15 or more previous convictions or cautions, and more than 2,500 offenders with more than 50 prosecutions or cautions, avoided a jail sentence. Will my right hon. and learned Friend’s proposals not simply make that matter worse?
Others sought certain reassurances:
Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal): He mentioned having a sentencing framework that is comprehensible to the public, which I hope also applies to victims. I found during the general election that a number of my constituents do not understand why, when somebody is sentenced to six years, they automatically go home after three.
David Nuttall (Bury North): Further to the reply that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), does he agree that if we are to restore the public’s trust in the criminal justice system, there must be honesty in sentencing and that convicted criminals should serve the full length of any sentence of imprisonment handed down by the court?
Priti Patel (Witham): Will the Secretary of State reassure my constituents and guarantee that dangerous criminals, such as paedophiles, will receive demanding and robust punishment in prison so that our streets are kept safe for our children?
But there were a couple of Tory voices of unqualified support for the new proposals:
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe): The majority of the people I represented who were burglars were addicted to drugs or alcohol. Does the Secretary of State agree that residential rehabilitation is usually far more effective at stopping such people reoffending than long custodial sentences?
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys): I congratulate the Secretary of State on avoiding the siren calls of populism that I have been so disappointed to hear on both sides of the House today. Will he reassure me that when a prisoner is in prison, not only does he have a duty to make reparations but the state also has a duty, to offer him the opportunity of redemption, so that when he leaves that place of incarceration he has a chance to lead a useful and meaningful life—a life that is not reduced to one of stigmatisation or described, as I heard from the Opposition Benches, as that of a prisoner on the streets?