Under this Government the prison population has increased and the crime rate has fallen. Some of us suspect there may be a link between these two sets of statistics. As the former Home Secretary Lord Howard remarked:
But it is ludicrous to suggest that accepting and acting upon this truth means disregarding the importance of rehabilitation.
This morning we saw that the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has decided “that teenagers in young offender institutions will have bed times imposed under plans designed to instill discipline. From August, governors have been told to enforce a strict cell lights-out policy at 10.30pm.” Those caught breaking the rule risk losing the chance to watch TV at all.
Mr Grayling said:
“The public expects that serious offenders face prison. That is right. But it is also crucial that young people, most of whom have had chaotic and troubled lives, finally get the discipline so badly needed to help turn their lives around.”
“In some prisons, young people are allowed to go to bed when they please. I don’t think that is right. Stopping this inconsistency and introducing a strict, lights-out policy is all part of our approach to addressing youth offending. Those who fail to comply will face tough sanctions.”
Also the number of hours of education for young offenders receive in custody will double to 24 hours a week.
The Labour Party have attacked the plans as a “gimmick.” Are they? It seems to me this would be a tangible difference for 827 young prisoners – those aged between 15-17 years of age in our five young offender institutions.
Why is the Labour Party against them having a clear routine, more education, less staring at the TV all night? In what sense would that change be a “gimmick”?
Then there was a pathetic comment from Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, who said that “encouraging personal responsibility will work better than new hard-and-fast rules.”
That is not the only change. As the Evening Standard reported recently:
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling recognises that something radical must be done and has begun to roll out what has been billed as the biggest shake-up to the criminal justice system in a generation. His cornerstone reform, which yesterday received Royal Assent, ensures probation supervision for the first time to prisoners serving less than 12 months. He said: “We are finally addressing the glaring gap that sees 50,000 short-sentenced prisoners released every year with no support, free to go back to their criminal ways.”
The two reforms are linked. The new Community Rehabilitation Companies can be run by bids from the private sector or the voluntary sector. They will be responsible for the greatly enhanced service. They will be paid bonuses if they reduce re-offending rates and will be encouraged to collaborate with innovative groups such as the St Giles Trust.
The Shadow Justice Secretary complains that the changes are a “huge risk.” A risk? The level of success may be hard to predict but it is hardly a risk compared to the known disaster under the Labour Government of 50,000 prisoners a year being released with a £46 discharge grant – no home, no job, no other help and support at all and who thus regard the most viable option to be sleeping on the floor with members of the criminal gang they emerged from. It is unremarkable that the re-offending rate is high.
Rhetoric about being “tough” or “soft” misses the point. Is it doing young criminals any favours to be “soft” and allow them to rot in front of the TV rather than ensuring they turn their lives round?
Labour’s record on re-offending and rehabilitation was a disgrace. The revolution undertaken by Mr Grayling in this area which has started this month has been almost entirely ignored. I suppose The Sun and the Daily Mail have an ingrained pessimism over improvements in this area. The BBC and The Guardian have an ideological hostility to any extension of the profit motive – they will only take notice if there is some scandal at some stage. So well done to David Cohen for his interesting piece in the Evening Standard but generally the changes which have started this month have passed the nation by.
Anyway these reforms should be a source of great pride to Conservatives – and of hope to young offenders who are looking for help to find a better path in life.