The last few days have seen much discussion of Tory policy on imprisonment. Michael Howard was on last night’s Newsnight (available to view again until 2230 tonight) to defend his famous ‘prison works‘ policy.
I was not an admirer of Michael Howard’s brief time as Tory leader but I believe that he was a truly great Home Secretary. The fact that he reversed decades-long increases in crime puts him in my premier division of post-war cabinet ministers. He was certainly the outstanding success of the Major years. On last night’s Newsnight he fronted a film that spotlighted his four policy changes that produced four years of falling crime rates:
- The widespread introduction of CCTV into urban centres – former Met Chief John Stevens appeared in the Newsnight package to agree that the funding of CCTV had had important deterrent and detection effects.
- The introduction of the DNA database – former Cabinet Secretary Richard Wilson noted that this was a far-reaching reform. Britain currently leads the world in DNA records and where DNA tests are available conviction rates rise from 26% to 40%.
- The withdrawal of the right to silence – since it was possible for juries to make inferences from a defendant’s refusal to co-operate with police and prosecutors there has been a 50% fall in people staying silent.
- Greater imprisonment – Dr David G Green of Civitas agreed that the incapacitation of habitual and serious offenders had made a major difference in the war on crime. There is a wealth of evidence on the Civitas site to support Dr Green and Michael Howard’s belief in imprisonment.
Michael Howard was on good form on Newsnight. The great mystery for me is why he made so little use of his crime-fighting credentials during the General Election campaign and concentrated so much on dog-whistle campaigning on immigration…?