Gove indicates shift in prison policy

Gove indicates shift in prison policy

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On 16 July 2016, new Justice Secretary Michael Gove made a speech on the topic of prisons, indicating a move away from his predecessor’s “less carrot more stick” approach.

Policy

Gove mooted the idea of “earned release” from custodial sentences, whereby prisoners would earn either early release (before the half-way point of the sentences, the point at which most prisoners are released) by making a commitment to what was described as “serious educational activity”.

This would result in prisoners serving less than half of their custodial terms, with a  longer period spent on licence.

Gove said:

‘In prisons there is a – literally – captive population whose inability to read properly or master basic mathematics makes them prime candidates for re-offending…Ensuring those offenders become literate and numerate makes them employable and thus contributors to society.’

The Ministry of Justice will now explore the practicalities of the policy.

Shift

This perhaps indicates a shift away from the Tory right; Gove’s predecessor, Chris Grayling, had marshalled a definite shift to the right by bringing in such measures as minimum sentences for knife crime, an automatic life sentence, toughening the release provisions for extended sentences.

However Gove has criticised the system’s “horrific, persistent failure” to tackle reoffending and seemingly believes there is a balance to be found between punishment and public protection on the one hand, and rehabilitation, support and supervision on the other.

He said:

“Our streets will not be safer, our children will not be properly protected and our future will not be more secure unless we change the way we treat offenders and offenders then change their lives for the better.”

Comment

In a prison system that has comparatively few indeterminate prisoners, and only approximate 50 out of some 88,000 who will never be released, the idea that we need to rehabilitate and prepare prisoners for release and life “on the outside” is plainly common sense.

Prison policy often attracts a variety of views ranging from the liberal (“don’t imprison non-dangerous offenders”) to the…less sympathetic (“lock them up for longer!”).

Is this policy a goer, or another waste of MoJ time and public money?

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Lyndon is the General Editor of Current Sentencing Practice and the Criminal Appeal Reports (Sentencing)

2 COMMENTS

  1. It only works if they fund it properly, otherwise only a small percentage of prisoners will get the opportunity to even study. Add to that the fact that most prisons are overcrowded and there is no likelihood of proper availability of education. And with most prison sentences being for less than 12 months (I might have made that up – the prison reform trust say average is 15.4months) there is not enough time for anything beyond basic education.

    Of course what he is actually saying is prisoners should spend longer in prison UNLESS they get educated – its suggested in your article here that “whereby prisoners would earn either early release (before the half-way point of the sentences, the point at which most prisoners are released) by making a commitment to what was described as “serious educational activity”.” but elsewhere its reported as earned release would replace automatic half-way point release. In addition, are they going to offer this form of “early release” to all prisoners or would some be excluded as was the case in the past with home detention schemes?

    It is probably the case that LESS people should be being sent to prison, though perhaps education should be part of the requirement of community orders (which are already more effective than short prison sentences). Of course that would mean proper funding for the probation service … oh thats been privatised and reduced too hasn’t it!

    …you would think that prison has nothing to do with rehabilitation and reducing reoffending…

    • “And with most prison sentences being for less than 12 months (I might have made that up – the prison reform trust say average is 15.4months)”

      I’d guess that you and the prison reform trust are both right. Lengths of sentences will have a skewed distribution so the median will be less than the mean (I assume that 15.4 is the mean, whereas your assertion requires the median to be less than 12 months, which is perfectly possible).

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