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Monday, October 27, 2008 

That insidious criminal justice lobby...

I have very little to add to what both Justin and Dave Osler have already said about Jack Straw's latest exercise in attempting to placate the tabloids, although the idea that there's even a "criminal justice lobby" is incredibly humourous, as is the idea that it has any real influence whatsoever over government policy. If groups such as the Howard League for Penal Reform or the Prison Reform Trust did, then we wouldn't currently have the largest prison population we have ever had, nor would the government be intending to even further extend prison capacity, or to build those self-same prisons with overcrowding built-in.

The parts of the speech released smack of "Unspeak". Straw it seems wants to reintroduce old-fashioned words like "punishment" and "reform", as if they had ever went away. The real reason why they might have become deprecated is because we no longer see prison purely as punishment or purely as reform; we've realised that pure punishment does not reform, just as without punishment there is no incentive to reform. This though is far too touch-feely for the tabloids, or for the victims' families that the Sun especially keeps inflicting upon us: what they want is little more than an eye for an eye, which the system can never provide. Equally disingenuous is his highlighting of terms such as "criminogenic needs of offenders"; a Google search turns up just 32,400 results, most of them American in origin or from psychological academic tomes.

It's not even as if Straw is being anything approaching original. Almost all the previous home secretaries under Labour, including Straw himself, and now the justice secretary since the changes in the Home Office have said they'll be ever tougher on crime, criminals and increasingly cater for victims. Each has also subsequently, after doing so and having failed to provide the punitive measures which they apparently favoured, been ridiculed and pilloried by those they attempted to woo. John Reid was depicted as brainless and Charles Clarke was sacrificed over the foreign prisoners affair; only Blunkett prospered, being given pride of place by the Sun in its columns for his "straight-talk". Straw must surely be aware of the dangers of his approach, but has gone ahead anyway.

And how has the Sun, for example, responded? In the way only it can:

But Helen Newlove, widow of Garry, who was kicked to death by thugs in Warrington, Cheshire, last year, said: “This is too little too late.

“Labour brought in the barmy Human Rights Act in the first place and employed many of these do-gooders themselves on huge salaries.”


Would Newlove like to name on single do-gooder that has been employed on a huge salary? It would be a challenge, as they number next to none.

As for the editorial:

Of course this is all true. Of course prison reformers get their way too often.

*snort*

You talk a good game, Jack. If you really mean business, though, give us those new prisons.

And end the early-release scheme that last year alone saw 31,000 inmates — yes, 31,000 — freed before their time.


All released a whole two weeks' before their sentence would have ended normally and that without which the prisons would be completely full, partially as a result of the Scum's own demands for incessant harsher sentences. Straw can't possibly win, but you almost have to give him credit for trying. The countdown to Straw being depicted as a crazed lunatic setting free criminals to murder your relatives begins now.

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Is he dishonest or genuinely stupid? If you don't want convicts to reoffend straight after release, you need to tackle the reasons why they offended in the first place, because a prison stretch on its own isn't going to make those reasons go away & may make them worse. This is called addressing the criminogenic needs of offenders.

It could be argued, I suppose, that talking in terms of 'needs' rather than choices removes the offender's responsibility for offending - but this is actually a precondition of any kind of reform other than moral exhortation. Obviously you hope the offender's going to make a commitment to forswearing a life of petty crime, but we all know that it's a damn sight easier for some people to make that commitment than others - and it's precisely that knowledge which Straw is denouncing. Take 'criminogenic needs' out of the reform picture and what have you got?

You broke the law! Don't do it again!
- Er, why not?
Because breaking the law is wrong!

That'll work.

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