9 November 2015
In the News:
At the Howard League for Penal Reform AGM last week, Michael Gove held his own when challenged about criminal justice reform. Despite his Making Prisons Work speech in July, and his successful overturning of his predecessor’s prison book ban, Gove has remained relatively reticent on his plans for the criminal justice system. Speaking for some 30 minutes, Gove addressed the “need to move away from the sterile debate of ‘lock people up or let them out’”, and summon a “new era of talking about crime and punishment”. His audience, many still bristling from Grayling’s stringency in office, were won over by the Lord Chancellor’s more peaceable approach to penal reform. In addition to emphasising the need for a more sensitive sentencing framework, Gove urged for the causes of criminality to be tackled, including the “moral absence” experienced by many offenders growing up in care. In contrast to Grayling’s perceived complacency over prison conditions, Gove recognised the current “crisis”, pledging his commitment to his “new for old” prisons policy – replacing ineffective Victorian prisons with functional new ones – as well as to improving the autonomy of prison governors. The Lord Chancellor also proposed the use of more advanced technology in prisons, in order to improve the safety of staff and inmates, and to meet the particular educational needs of prisoners with learning difficulties. The conference ended on an especially poignant note, with Gove expressing his admiration for social workers – words which left Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League “blown away”.
It remains to be seen whether the Autumn Statement, unveiled later this month, will affirm Gove’s ambitious plans. Yet his moral framework for policy choices bodes well, informing the ongoing debate on the prison system with a quieter rhetoric of hope and realism.
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