Second chances for ex-offenders through education

Opinion on 11th December 2010

Why Prison Isn't Working

Kenneth Clarke's plans for prisons, set out in the green paper this week, appear to herald the end of the 'prison works' mind-set, first espoused by Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard, after his appointment in the summer of 1993, and subsequently continued by New Labour.  Debate about Howard's legacy continues, with many in Clarke's own party unhappy at the new direction he proposes in prisons' policy.  At the start of 1995, Lord Longford wrote a damning evaluation of the 'prison works' approach for the Catholic weekly, the Tablet.  Here we reprint extracts of that article as a contribution to the on-going discussion.

It was claimed for Michael Howard that he had once visited Brixton [prison], but his ignorance of prison matters was recognised to be total.  Almost overnight, however, he announced a 27-point programme for law and order.  At the Conservative conference the Prime Minister expounded a new "get tough" policy, as did Michael Howard... The latter assured the cheering conference that "prison works", making it plain that it would work better if it was made more unpleasant. In the year and a half that followed he has been faithful to most of his dream in spite of criticism from every knowledgeable quarter, including the judiciary, two Conservative former Home Secretaries, and prison staff at all levels, not to mention the police.

Taking the half century before Michael Howard came into office, it would be difficult to claim that the lot of prisoners had been substantially improved, except in the sense that the national standard of life had become much higher.  On the one hand, criminology had made great advances and much splendid work had been done by voluntary bodies. On the other hand, crime had increased remorselessly. There were 10,000 people in prison when I became a prison visitor in the 1930s.  There are now close on 50,000; and under the impact of Michael Howard's policies, it is reckoned that the number will steadily increase.

Michael Howard's defiance of the accumulated wisdom of those most concerned with penal matters is slready landing him in serious trouble as failures in the area of security become evident.  To put the matter crudely, it is impossible to run prisons if prison staff are instructed to show themselves the enemies of prisoners.

Mr Howard, I understand, has informed at least one conference of experts that he was the only elected person present and preferred to follow the views of the public rather than theirs. Penal reformers must, therefore, face up to the fact that if he and his successors are to be induced to adopt more enlightened policies, more strenuous efforts must be made than hitherto to bridge the gap between the instructed and the uninstructed.

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