Thursday, 6 February 2020

Lock 'em up ant throw away the key?

The Tories have long prided themselves on being the "tough on crime" party, advocating tougher sentences for  all the errors some of our flesh are heir to.  It's popular stuff and helps win elections.  

So it's no surprise that the government's most publicised reaction to Sunday's knife attack in Streatham by  convicted terrorist Sudesh Ammam is to  alter the law so that those convicted of terrorist offences lose their right to automatic release when they've served half their sentence.

What comes as a surprise to me, and I suspect to many others , is that such a right to "automatic release" exists at all.  I had supposed that early release, for terrorists or anyone else, was conditional on good behaviour.  Such a condition is necessary to enable the prison authorities to steer their inmates toward co-operation.  It should be up to an independent parole board to decided whether or not "good behaviour" has been achieved.

Clearly Ammam  had not co-operated with the prison (he had refused to take part in "deradicalisation" activities) so did not deserve any favours and should not have been released.  So if that is what the law actually  says, then it should be changed, though whether it is fair to change it retrospectively in the case of prisoners to whom early release has already been promised is another matter.

However, the government  also urgently needs to look carefully and equally urgently at the other factors involved: the gross overcrowding in our prisons; state of the prison education service; facilities for rehabilitation; and the strength  of the probation service for supervision after release (and supervision of the many  who have committed offences but don't really need to be sent to prison.)  

All of these service have been starved since the austerity regime post 2010, and they weren't all that well funded before .

It was a Conservative Home Secretary,   Douglas Hurd, who warned their conference that, vote winner though it might be, "Prison is an expensive was of making bad people worse." 

Our prison, rehabilitation and probation services are now a national disgrace.  We can hope that the newly prolific Tories will use these recent and unwelcome incidents to put the fundamentals  right , and not just rely on the popular headline-winning gesture

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