By Tim Montgomerie
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The Prime Minister is due to make a big speech on crime and rehabilitation today. He will promise a "tough but intelligent" approach to the prevention and punishment of crime. He will say that punishment is essential but that more needs to be done to first prevent crime and then, if that fails, to rehabilitate criminals.
The speech is being presented by some in the media as a response to the Government's difficult week but, in reality, the speech and whole approach has long been in the pipeline. Chris Grayling was thinking about a rehabilitation revolution when he was Shadow Home Secretary. Working with Nick Herbert and the Centre for Social Justice the Tory leadership was interested in reducing reoffending rates for most of the last seven years.
Michael Howard's 'prison works' policy was one of the most successful policy shifts of the post-war period. Alongside improved household and car security it has driven the reversal of what once seemed like an irreversible post-war increase in crime. New data last week suggested recorded crime had fallen again, this time to its lowest level since 1989. Prison has worked because a large proportion of crimes are committed by a small number of offenders. If they are taken off the streets then crime falls. This simple act of incarceration – rather than any idea that prison deters, punishes or rehabilitates – is the most potent function of prison up until this point.
But prison can and must work better. Reoffending rates of ex-prisoners are frighteningly high. The post-Howard stage of penal policy is not to undo his central insight but to ensure that while soiciety incarcerates offenders it also reforms them. By paying a new range of providers in proportion to the results they achieve Grayling and Cameron hope to ensure that fewer people ever return to prison but instead go on to lead socially and personally constructive lives. Mr Grayling's motto fuses Michael Howard's with Blair's – more people going to prison but fewer going back. In other words the approach set out in David Cameron's speech is much more thoughtful than you might have guessed from the 'Cameron: It's time to Mug a Hoodie' headline on the front of yesterday's Mail on Sunday.
The headlines are one of the reasons why we seem to be losing the goodwill of social reformers like Camila Batmanghelidjh (pictured, above, with the PM in happier times). In today's Guardian she accuses the PM of losing his nerve and giving into a culture of "teenage hatred". Fiona Melville at Platform Ten also worries about a "zig-zagging" in Tory crime policy. I don't think they should be alarmed. Any close reading of the PM's words today and of Chris Grayling's work in opposition suggests complete consistency of approach. Please judge for yourself by studying these key extracts from the Prime Minister's speech…
Tough and intelligent towards criminality: "So do I take a tough line on crime – or a touchy-feely one? In no other public debate do the issues get polarised like this. On climate change you don’t have to be in denial or campaigning to get every car off the road. Life isn’t that simple – so government policy isn’t that simple. And yet with the crime debate, people seem to want it black or white. Lock ‘em up or let ‘em out. Blame the criminal or blame society. ‘Be tough’ or ‘act soft’. We’re so busy going backwards and forwards we never move the debate on. What I have been trying to do – in opposition and now in government – is break out of this sterile debate and show a new way forward: tough, but intelligent."
Punishment is an essential ingredient of justice policy: "Victims need to know the criminal will be held to account and dealt with. And the ‘society’ bit matters: retribution is not a dirty word, it is important to society that revulsion against crime is properly recognised. But punishment is what offenders both deserve and need, too."
Helping young people off the conveyor belt to crime: "Come with me to any prison in this country. There you’ll meet muggers, robbers, and burglars. But you’ll also meet young men who can’t read, teenagers on drugs, people who’ve never worked a day in their life. These people need help so they can become part of the solution and not remain part of the problem. Recognising this isn’t soft, or liberal. It’s common sense. We’ll never create a safer society unless we give people, especially young people, opportunities and chances away from crime."
Rehabilitation revolution, paid by results: "It’s not a case of ‘prison works’ or ‘prison doesn’t work’ – we need to make prison work. And once people are on the outside, let’s stick with them, let’s give them proper support because it’s not outer space we’re releasing these people into – it’s our streets, our towns, among our families and our children. That’s why this Government is engaged in what can only be described as a rehabilitation revolution – led by the new Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. His main, driving mission is this: to see more people properly punished, but fewer offenders returning to the system. To achieve that, we’re saying to charities, companies and voluntary organisations – come and help us rehabilitate our prisoners. Give offenders new skills. Educate them. If they’ve been in a gang, send a reformed gang member to meet them at the prison gates and take them under their wing. If they’re on drugs, try the latest techniques to get them clean. Do whatever it takes to get these people back living decent, productive lives. We will pay you for that but – and it is a major but – once again the payments will depend on results."