By Paul Goodman
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Today is Chris Grayling's day to star in Downing Street grid – as the afterwash of yesterday evening's welfare vote sloshes through this morning's papers. (No doubt it will also feature in Prime Minister's Questions today. The Daily Mail reports that –
"Private firms and charities are to be paid to meet offenders at the prison gate and seek to turn them away from a life of crime, the Justice Secretary will announce today. In a major shake up of prisoner rehabilitation, Chris Grayling will set out plans to offer cash incentives if inmates are prevented from reoffending after release."
The Justice Secretary believes that since almost half of all prison-leavers are reconvicted within 12 months, Something Must Be Done. The plan is a "major extension of ‘payment by results’ – pioneered by Mr Grayling in back-to-work programmes when he was employment minister".
According to the Guardian, the public probation service will not be banned outright from
bidding for the work, but it will be expected to do so only in partnership
with the private sector. The probation service also faces "a major shakeup" to ease the bids process. Grayling says:
"We know across the public, private and voluntary sectors there is a
wealth of expertise and experience – we need to unlock that so we can
finally begin to bring down our stubbornly high reoffending rates. Our
proposals will see all of those sentenced to prison or probation
properly punished while being helped to turn away from crime for good."
Labour is sure to point out that those back-to-work programmes haven't had an easy start. The Guardian refers to the "rightwing, populist justice secretary". But this move so much doesn't show the populist side of the self-proclaimed "tough Justice Secretary" as the tender one.
After all, the new scheme was piloted by his predecessor, the decidedly unpopulist Ken Clarke. Both clearly believe that the energy and talent of the little platoons or, if you prefer, the Big Society can be mobilised to cut the woefully high re-offending rates and help turn lives round.
In prison, criminals have a structure to support them. It often always work, but at least it's there. When an ex-prisoner exits the prison gate, he leaves that structure behind him – and, as the statistics show, may well return to crime.
Grayling told me when I interviewed him recently for this site that he wants "a much smarter approach to rehabilitation". Here it is – part of it, anyway. It would be much easier for the Justice Secretary to do nothing much at all. Instead, we have classic compassionate conservatism.