It has emerged that Ken Clarke’s ‘rehabilitation revolution’ is completely failing prisoners with IPP and long term determinate sentences and is also failing to reduce prisoner numbers. Mr Clarke’s proposed changes are only being directed at those prisoners serving 12 months or less and completely ignore those with longer sentences. The excuse is that short term prisoners receive no statutory help when released while those serving long sentences fall under the (somewhat dubious) control of the Probation Service and the Police.
The various law enforcement authorities, charities and others who benefit from the current situation where public opinion is driven by an artificial fear generated by those with vested interests, have consolidated themselves into a formidable opposition to Mr Clarke, frequently predicting rising crime levels and trying to sell the public the false prospect of hundreds of ‘dangerous’ criminals being allowed to ‘roam the streets of Britain’.
Clarke’s ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’ sounded like good news when it was first announced 18 months ago but since then it has failed to deliver. Faced with political opposition from right wing Tories on one side and Labour public protection zealots on the other, Clarke has had to water down his proposals so that they are now far less ‘revolutionary’ than was intended but are more politically acceptable.
Changes to the IPP sentence are still a long way from being introduced and it has been made clear by the government that the existing 6,500 IPP prisoners will not benefit from any changes that are eventually introduced. Meanwhile, more IPPs are being handed down every week.
In Justice Questions in the House of Commons last week, when responding to a written question Mr. Clarke admitted that prison numbers could rise as high as 94,000; a complete contradiction of his stated intention to reduce the number of those held in custody. The UK hands out some of the longest prison sentences in Europe and it is now becoming apparent that the number of long term prisoners is likely to rise, not fall.
The prisons minister, Crispin Blunt last week visited Peterborough prison in order to inspect the new ‘payment by results’ system of rehabilitation but it later became clear that this scheme only applies to short term prisoners; it is these prisoners that are most likely to repeat offend and return to custody, sometimes several times during a 2 year period.
The real problem however is one of public perception and of those who have power trying desperately to hang on to it.
Those serving sentences of over 4 years are regarded as ‘serious’ offenders and on release often face long licences. Probation officers have ignored guidance from the Ministry of Justice and are still ‘recalling’ record numbers of offenders back to prison rather than spend valuable resources on trying to rehabilitate them. This is particularly the case with violent offenders and is even more prevalent when dealing with sexual offenders.
Probation officers – who are often straight out of university and have little or no experience of the real world – are more ‘risk averse’ than ever and are terrified of criticism. As a result, they recall offenders back into custody for the slightest breach of their licence which often contain ‘conditions’ which are almost impossible not to breach.
The police are equally to blame as they form part of the Multi Agency Protection Panel Arrangements (MAPPA) and are just as keen to use any excuse to send sex offenders and others back to jail. MAPPA functios under a cloak of secrecy and offenders get no chance to check the evidence upon which decisions are made. This gives the authorities ‘carte blanche’ to do anything they like to offenders with nobody being held to account for wrong or dishonest decisions.
The presumption that all sexual and violent offenders will reoffend also continues to drive poor decision-making and evaluation procedures, often with the results of Home Office and MOJ risk assessment tools being replaced by personal opinion when the risk assessment does not give probation or police the result they want to see. Once again, secrecy prevails and so it is almost impossible to hold those responsible to account.
Mr Clarke has done nothing to address any of these problems, though it is inconceivable that he is not aware of their existence. The political necessity of being seen to lock up as many people as possible is now so firmly ingrained in British politics that it is hard to see any way in which common sense and fairness can be brought back into the system. This is the real problem that Clarke faces.
Meanwhile, prison numbers continue to rise and more and more criminal law is introduced, though not to the hysterical extent that was apparent under Tony Blair’s government which introduced more than 3,000 new criminal offences during its reign.
Nevertheless, the government seems steadfast in its intent to ignore the elephant in the room that is long term prison sentences. With the new proposal that IPP sentences should be scrapped, TheOpinionSite.org and other organisations hoped that logic would prevail. Given that Clarke has announced that, where appropriate, mandatory life sentences will be given instead of IPPs, it now seems likely that the number of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences will go up, not down.
Mr Clarke said once that he wanted to ‘get rid of the nonsense populism’ of New Labour but so far, even with the minimum of real examination, it has become very clear that David Cameron is as scared of accusations of being ‘soft on crime’ as ever Blair was and is putting pressure on Clarke.
The much hoped for restraining influence of the Liberal Democrats seems to have evaporated as they continue to enjoy the trappings of government, though many would argue that we are probably better off with the Liberals than without them. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary, Theresa may is stirring up as much opposition to Mr Clarke as she can.
As policemen and probation officers across the country try to prove that they are worth their jobs and the huge amount of money that they get paid together with their protected status and the excessive power that they now have, one must ask whether in reality anything has actually changed or not. Certainly, TheOpinionSite.org has seen very little real change and the many comments from our thousands of visitors seems to confirm this view.
The real problem with prisons is that there are too many prisoners serving long sentences and it is far too easy for the authorities to return offenders to custody when they are eventaually released, often doing so on a whim, for the sake of political expediency or simply because they can. Until these critical issues are addressed, Mr Clarke can say or do what he likes but none of it will make any difference.
To its shame, Britain still locks up more adults and more children than any other country in Europe. It does so because British society is a highly repressed society where people live under the illusion of freedom and democracy when in reality, neither truly exist. The whole sociological system in Britain is designed to keep the powerful in power, make the rich richer and keep the rest of the population in its customary subservient position whilst trying to convince it otherwise.
If anyone strays from the prescribed path for even an instant, sooner or later they are likely to find themselves in jail. If they protest or take direct action against the power of the State, they are likely to suffer the same consequences. If they steal in order to feed their children – something that nowadays is far from uncommon – they will end up behind bars, no consideration being given as to why they were forced to steal in the first place.
If this is what Mr Clarke’s ‘rehabilitation revolution’ is about he may as well pack up and go home. He has always been the only voice of common sense with regard to criminal justice issues but it seems that his voice is being drowned out by all those with vested interests. From children’s charities to women’s groups; from police to probation officers; from prison warders to prison psychologists – they all have only one aim.
That aim is to keep things as they are; to maintain the status quo. To stifle real democracy, maintain the position of the rich and powerful and to persecute those who cannot and never will be able to defend themselves.
The truth is that the 2 million people who are ‘protectors of the public’ could themselves, from a certain point of view, be regarded as the biggest threat to a truly free society.
TheOpinionSite.org thinks back to Cromwell, the French Revolution and other conflicts that had their origin in the unfair treatment of the poor and unfortunate. Have we learned nothing? Can people really not see what is taking place under their very noses? Are we all really as stupid as the government would like?
Sadly, despite Ken Clarke’s best efforts, prison numbers will continue to rise as more and more people stray, willingly or otherwise, from the path forced upon them by those in power. Expect to see more riots, more theft, more conflict and more imprisonment as those who seek to wield power over the nation try to protect their position – and their wealth.
If those who have that power and influence over the rest of us disagree with TheOpinionSite.org, they are welcome to leave a comment in the space provided at the bottom of this page but, as usual, it is doubtful that they will do so. Instead, they will hide behind their positions of power and influence like the cowards that they are and expect the rest of us to do as we are told.
The real tragedy however is that most of us will do just that; most people being too afraid of prison and persecution to do anything else.