The Plastic Hippo

February 9, 2016

Serial re-offenders

Usual suspects via some image agency or other

Usual suspects via some image agency or other

By promising significant improvements to an antiquated penal system, David Cameron has guaranteed a lasting legacy that will reverse the causes of criminality and the horrific downward spiral of recidivist degeneracy. Now elevated into the pantheon of enlightened reformers, Cameron`s “biggest shake-up of prisons since the Victorian era” places him along side worthy emancipationists including former Home Secretary Michael Howard, the inspiration behind the Howard League for Penal Reform, and Elizabeth Fry, the inventor of Fry`s Turkish Delight. From now on, the only porridge served will be Quaker Oats.

Cameron has said that the “current levels of prison violence, drug-taking and self-harm should shame us all” and that the failure within the criminal justice system is something of a national scandal. We can only give thanks that the five year custodial tariff handed down to the nation in 2010 has produced such remarkable rehabilitation and a commitment to going straight. In his first and only speech on prison reform, Cameron has finally realised the error of dropping the soap in the E-wing shower block.

Firstly, prison governors will have autonomy over operation and budgets and should consider prisoners as “potential assets to be harnessed” rather than an expensive liability costing the rough equivalent of the annual fees for a half-decent public school. Foreigners will be deported and prisons will be judged as successful depending on a league table of suicides, re-offending and evidence of employment following release. Mobile phone signals will be blocked and satellites will track felons allowed out during the working week to pursue gainful employment. Interestingly, independent prison governors can now ignore the endless rules and regulations imposed by government and convicted criminals are no longer required to declare any wrongdoing when applying for a job.

If all of this sounds familiar, then we need look no further than the current Secretary of State for Justice, the Right Honourable Michael Gove MP. After ruining state education and after being judged to have acted unlawfully, Gove was sacked and moved to justice only because Chris Grayling was about to be torn limb from limb by an angry mob of barristers, QCs and judges. Groundhog Day has come and gone but Gove is applying the same levels of idiocy to justice as he did with education. The removal of “red tape” (or safeguarding as it was once described), admittance of criminality, financial independence now universally accepted as fraud within the academy and free school programmes and the use of mercenary contractors such as Serco and G4S indicate a modus operandi that Holmes, Poirot and Colombo would spot from a thousand yards even through the smoke and mirrors of a corrupt government.

Given his track record, even a victim of a triple sense of humour bypass would die laughing at Gove`s pledge to improve prisoner literacy and numeracy and his intention to give the governors of Young Offenders Institutions the same “freedoms” as head teachers in free schools. As a serial re-offender, Gove`s potential anti-European stance has forced Cameron to forget his alibi regarding Yarl`s Wood, Jimmy Mubenga and the thugs at these private “security” firms and offer Gove whatever he and his financiers want.

One penal charity commented that Cameron`s reforms would fail if prisoners continue to be “crammed into filthy institutions with no staff”. There is a pattern emerging if you substitute the term “prisoners” for patients or pupils or senior citizens. The Prison Reform Trust had the temerity to suggest that crime and therefore punishment were subject to inconvenient factors such as poverty, hunger and sheer desperation.

Cameron said; “We need prisons. Some people – including, of course, rapists, murderers, child abusers, gang leaders – belong in them. I also strongly believe that we must offer chances to change; that for those trying hard to turn themselves around, we should offer hope; that in a compassionate country, we should help those who`ve made mistakes to find their way back onto the right path”.

Very few citizens of a compassionate country would argue with those sentiments and Cameron is entirely correct to adopt this sudden reforming stance. It is just and decent to allow serial re-offenders such as Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Iain Duncan Smith, Osborne, May and Sajid Javid who have all at some point been found to have acted unlawfully a second or possibly umpteenth chance. Prison is no place for ministers or hedge fund managers or CEOs or any public figure wrongly accused during the complete waste of time spent on endless enquiries into financial impropriety, phone hacking or child sexual abuse.

Prison, as Cameron says, is for rapists, murderers, child abusers, gang leaders and, of course, people who are poor.

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