Since bouncing back in to government Kenneth Clarke has been a controversial figure, frequently pilloried by the right wing press as being soft on criminals. Whether one agrees with his prison reforms, you can’t argue that he is right to cut the £4 billion a year prisons budget.
Under Labour the prisons bill rose by over two-thirds, with each prisoner costing the taxpayer £45,000 a year to accommodate. You may consider that money well spent, if it keeps a criminal off the streets. That’s the problem though, it keeps them off the streets whilst serving their sentence, but it does nothing to stop reoffending once released. Nearly half head back to prison within the year and two-thirds offend again within two years of release. A conveyor belt of crime has been created, that churns out one professional criminal after another. It’s a damning indictment on our justice system that, despite spiralling budgets, has done nothing to reduce repeat offences.
Kenneth Clarke is right in tackling this wasteful spending, at the same time ending institutionalised idleness. A stretch inside shouldn’t be a cushy little number where offenders feel comfortable. It should be hard work and miserable, somewhere you don’t wish to return. I also support his plans for tougher community punishments that are actually enforced. There must be no sloping off, no getting away early and no standing around doing very little. They are there to repay society for the wrongs they perpetrated. We must not give them choices or give them an easy option. If it means doing the jobs that others won’t do, like clearing litter, removing graffiti or hard manual work, then so be it. If that’s under full public gaze and the humiliation that involves, then that’s no bad thing either.