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Rene Kinzett

Clarke v Howard (and no prizes for guessing who I’m cheering on!)

June 30th, 2010 by René Kinzett

Clarke v Howard on the issue of crime and punishment has pretty much dominated the political news today.

Sitting back and enjoying the sounds of two big beasts slamming into each other is what politics should be all about. Clarke, the fearless champion of the cause of One Nation Toryism and the patron saint of the sartorially-challenged, up against Howard, the sharper, more elegant voice of the hard-right. No prizes for guessing who I’d be holding the bucket and sponge for in this fight. And its not just because I am an unashamed Tory Reform Group nut, but its also has a lot to do with the fact that Clarke is just so right on this issue.

On just so many counts Clarke had the better of Howard. Clarke made the obvious point that, despite the doubling of the prison population since he was Home Secretary some 17 years ago (April 1992 – May 1993), the fear of crime has not lessened and can still be a debilitating factor for vulnerable people, particularly the elderly and it continues to lead to isolation. Others have followed up Ken’s line of thought and have given some great statistical analysis of the efficacy of prison versus other sanctions in the criminal justice toolkit for dealing with offenders in the hope of reducing reoffending rates.

But it really comes down, in the end, to what one wishes to measure. If by the “efficacy” of offender management programmes you, like me, understand it to mean  the reduction in offending, the rehabilitation of the offender and the gradual process of lessening the fear of crime, then you will no doubt be cheered by the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary’s words. If, however, you were to take the Howard view on life and believe that “prison works” on the basis that it is a “punishment”, then you will also probably also believe that the Daily Mail ought to replace the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

I was rather pleased with the quick but effective demolition job done on Howard’s time as Home Secretary by MaryRiddell over at the Daily Telegraph. The rapid gallop through the poor political judgement shown by Howard and the gaffes which occured during his time at the helm of the Home Office (the Department then in charge of prisons) is nearly as fun as when Ann Widdecombe quipped that her former boss had “something of the night” about him…a Google search about which led me to this rather amusing video!

Essentially, Ken Clarke has to take the lead in addressing the burgeoning prison population and the “value for money” question hanging over our criminal justice system. If sending a heroin-addicted offender off to a residential treatment centre makes him 43% less likely to reoffend and saves the taxpayer somewhere near to £200,000 in cost of the programme and the knock-on savings from dealing with far fewer victims, then surely Ken is right to turn Howard’s “prison works” ethos on its head.