The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke has said that proposals on sentencing are due to be announced to the House of Commons in December. He was answering a question during Justice Questions in the House last week.
Mr Clarke’s response to a question about the delay in presenting the much heralded review of sentencing suggests that the proposals will be given to MPs shortly before the Christmas recess; this will ensure that no questions can be asked until well into the New Year.
Given that Clarke only answers questions once every 5 weeks, you can work out the maths for yourself.
All this probably means that at least some of the proposals will not go down well with the Tory right wingers who want to lock up everyone for ever. TheOpinionSite.org believes it is likely however that other proposals may not now be as far reaching as was once hoped.
The populist MP John Mann asked Clarke if the review of the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP) would mean that thousands of rapists and paedophiles would be released onto the streets. Not surprisingly, Mr Clarke reassured him that this would not be the case but that something still had to be done about a sentence that was handed out to thousands of people every year instead of to hundreds as was originally intended.
Most involved in administering David Blunkett’s ridiculous and draconian measure now realise that it was badly drafted, rushed through Parliament with little scrutiny or criticism and was a political measure designed to satisfy the tabloid press and child protection lobbyists. Jack Straw tried to do something about it but failed miserably to do so.
Mr Clarke pointed out that there are now over 15,000 people serving life or indeterminate sentences in the UK. That is more than in all the other EU states put together.
Sentencing needs to be reviewed in order for the Ministry of Justice to meet its targets under the forthcoming budget cuts. However, there has been a subtle change in Ken Clarke recently, leading TheOpinionSite.org and others to believe that he may have been ‘got at’.
The once determined Justice Secretary seems to be taking a more reserved approach to sentencing than when he was first appointed, probably in response to thinly veiled criticism from his own colleagues who will have urged him not to look ‘soft’ on crime.
The tabloids – the Murdoch media in particular – will be lurking in the shadows hoping to make a target of Clarke if he even suggests a reduction in sentence for anyone. Cameron will be aware that there are some who already think he should step down as leader and Prime Minister and will therefore also be cautious. Clegg, as usual, will say nothing and probably betray his principles once again.
The fact is that Britain is a vindictive country second only to the United States when it comes to locking people up. Like the US, probation officers, prison officers and in particular, the police all have vested interests in maintaining a high prison population and in promoting fear amongst the public.
They will not give Clarke an easy ride as they have all done rather well for themselves throughout the years of New Labour. Any return to common sense with regard to penal policy in the UK would certainly mean a cut in their numbers and a loss of jobs.
Put that alongside the tabloid driven public hysteria about violent and sexual offenders and you have a recipe for conflict with anyone seeking to bring a little reality into the UK penal system as the target.
TheOpinionSite.org wishes Mr Clarke well in his attempts to reduce the prison population and to quell some of the paranoia that drives British society in its love affair with custody. He will need all the support he can get – but he should not expect too much from those who make their living by exploiting those who are in custody and who continue to do so when prisoners are released.
Rehabilitation is not a word that sits easily with those in Britain who have power over others; nor is it of any comfort to those who are denied a second chance and whom the law prevents from defending themselves against what is an essentially corrupt and warped criminal justice system.