A breath of fresh air swept through the Criminal Justice System with the announcement by Kenneth Clark MP, Minster for Justice, of his proposals put forward in his Green Paper, ‘Sentencing and Rehabilitation’ which was presented to Parliament on 7 December 2010 and since then there has been a flurry of near-hysteria by some of the more punitive commentators and the lock-em-up brigade, but breaking it all down what are we being presented with?
Apart from the Michael Howard supporters, who manifestly believe that prison works, all the evidence is to the contrary, and we continue to imprison more people than any other country in Europe with appalling re-offending rates. For sure, prison does incapacitate those who are confined behind the walls but for many offenders it is but an inconvenience and an interruption in their offending behavior so that after a period of incapacity, meaningless regimes equally meaningless offending behavior programmers and ill-conceived interventions thousands of offenders are being released from prison every year no better placed to survive in the outside world than when they went into prison. And in many cases, even less so, with reinforced and more deeply entrenched criminal attitudes and in that sense far from working, prison fails miserably.
The Green Paper aims to remedy some of the problems that are clearly not cost-effective or in any way benefit the community, so that offenders will not automatically go to prison nor indeed will those who are at present recalled to custody for breach of license for what are in many cases trivialities.
In 2008, the Law Commission said criminal sanctions should only be used to tackle serious wrongdoing and by using civil penalties instead for minor breaches.
The Commission also highlighted the fact that while the official law book, Halsbury's Statutes of England and Wales, uses 1,382 pages to cover offences created in the 637 years between 1351 and 1988, it needs almost three times as many (3,746) to cover the offences created in the 19 years between 1989 and 2008.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The Government is committed to preserving individual freedoms, and reducing the number of unnecessary criminal offences is an important step toward achieving this. Petty laws that criminalise millions should be scrapped, say advisers.
There was a clue in there about the aims of the present Government in its dealing with those who fall foul of the Criminal Justice System, and the Green Paper goes some way to bring sense to what has become a political football as each political party vies for a position on law and order.
For Kenneth Clarke it was a brave man who not only stepped out of line with current thinking but also against some of the more punitive elements of his own party, much to the great displeasure of prison and probation staff who see their own jobs under threat for they are all very much part of the failures.
Clarke, originally a Labour sympathiser whose grandfather had once been a communist, is without doubt a visionary with a far reaching mind, having been a QC and, for a short time in 1982-3, Home Secretary. So, that we have here a man who is more than qualified to bring about changes so desperately needed, although we may yet see some of his proposals being watered down before they become law.
It was back in June 2010 that Clarke signaled an end to short sentences that benefit neither the offender nor the community and that prison was not effective in many cases.
Describing the current prison population of 85,000, (with some 14,000 lifers and IPPs) as “astonishing” he signaled that offenders who refuse to pay child maintenance, disqualified drivers and criminals fighting asylum refusals would be the first to benefit from his proposals. Although, as expected, this drew sharp criticism from the Prison Governors Association who argued whether it was right that offenders should be taking work from law-abiding citizens. The Prison Officers Association, of course, were more critical when The Ministry of Justice announced that it had earmarked up to six smaller jails for possible closure, including Dartmoor, Shepton Mallet, Shrewsbury, and North Sea Camp, Lincolnshire, and will scale back Labour's prison building programme.
The probation officers union NAPO was quick to accuse Clarke of being motivated by an ideological wish to drive down costs and introduce the private sector. "It is proposing the privatisation, expansion and rebranding of community based unpaid work. Unpaid work, or community service, as it was originally known, has been an integral part of the Probation Service's work since 1976. Last year 52,671 offenders commenced unpaid work," he said. None of the representative bodies seemed to have welcomed the Green Paper but, as much as Clarke is accused of being fincially motivated and introducing cost cutting exercises, so too are the unions focusing more on their members jobs and of course the financial benefits attached to that.
We now know that a job is not for life and for state employees (prison and probation staff) engaged in dealing with offenders, they are now on notice to improve standards to drive down offending rates or be market tested by the private sector.
Ken Clarke has promised to end the rise in prisoner numbers and "break the cycle" of crime by tackling the causes of reoffending. The justice secretary plans more help to deal with inmates' drug and alcohol addiction problems and mental illness.
His Green Paper on sentencing in England and Wales aims to cut the 85,000 inmate population by 3,000. However, Labour said ministers were trying to reduce prisoner numbers "in order to cut costs". The government wants to reduce the £4bn prison and probation budget by 20% over four years.
The Green Paper puts the emphasis on making prisons in England and Wales more purposeful and toughening up community sentences.
Launching the paper in the Commons, Mr Clarke said the present criminal justice system "falls short of what is required" - with around half of those released from prison going on to reoffend within a year. He went on to propose that;
Other proposals include;
The ridiculous and much criticised sentence involved judges setting a minimum period to be served before the prisoner can apply for parole. In one case, the ‘tariff’ was only 38 weeks”. Under the new proposals IPP sentences will have a minimum tariff of 10 years.
Clearly, the proposals are vast departure from what we have come to accept as being the norm in the dealing of offenders and it remains to be seen how they will be implemented but if something is failing the remedy is to fix it and Kenneth Clarke has set in motion the wheels to do exactly that.
Charles Hanson – formerly resident at HMP Blantyre House
Comments about this article
7/1/2011 Sophie Redman -My husband is currently serving a 3 year ipp, does anyone know what the plans are for prisoners that are currently serving the ipp sentence? Will there be reviews for them? Will they get scrapped? Will they get released when the minimum sentence is up? The green paper only explains what new plans are not what the plans are for the people who are stuck with the BLATENT INJUSTICE!
7/1/2011 Emma -Hi,
11/1/2011 RachelMy partner is currently half way through serving an 8yr IPP sentence and has been infomred by Prison staff that he will be released by May 2011 at the latest, when the IPP is scarpped, with no tag/open prisons etc. As far as I am aware if they have serviced half of their IPP sentence they are headed for immediate release.... Fingers crossed.
11/1/2011 tillyRachel... that would be great... my OH is 17 months into his 5 year tarrif...this whole ipp thing gets my brain going...its such a terrible sentance to have, and the hmp rollercoaster is a nightmare..were due 1st parole 2014!!!..
11/1/2011 loretta -is ipp to be discontinued in may 2011 and can the offender be released after serving half the ipp sentence.
12/1/2011 RachelTilly....Me too, its alot to get the brain around!! It took me a while to understand it all... my partner has been in regular contact with his parole officer & solicitor, according to both of them it is buzzing around that this will be the case. BUT there isn't any proof, although they have assured him this is 99.9% certain. All we can do is hope & prey I guess. The IPP is a nightmare sentance for sure. Hope it works out for you...
12/1/2011 john james -I along with thousands of other people were led to believe that once this green paper came out our men would receive a release date. Unfortunately, this isnt the case. If the parole board (this same parole board that is taking on baord reports for the pettiest of offences that the inmates supposed to have done) knock the lads back - where is the release date then? Officers and inmates who know of lads doing ipp sentences have nothing to lose. they'll be free in a fixed amount of time, .. yet they target the ipp's getting them reprimanded - which costs our lads their freedom. where is the justice in this? just give them a release date. even if its five years from now. at least theyll know theyll be home one day and not living in a dark hole leading to nowhere.
13/1/2011 RachelTilly...Oh definately a rollercoaster! The IPP is a tough one to get your head around, took me a while! My Partner has been in regular contact with his parole officer & solicitor and word is that its buzzing around their companies that its a 99.9% definate that will happen. I guess all we can do is hope... I hope things work out for you!
13/1/2011 RachelI totally agree john james, couldnt of said it better myself...
17/1/2011 Sharon Corker -My brother was sentenced to 14 weeks in April 2008 on an IPP he is still in prison !!! How can this be allowed to continue. I am so pleased Rachel that your partner is in regular contact with his parole office. My brother has never met his!!
17/1/2011 RachelThat is disgusting that he is still there almost 2 years later from a 14 week sentence. Just goes to show how supportive the justice system is. I do hope you have your brother return home soon, there is absolutley no excuse for that.
18/1/2011 SharonThe real problem with this sentence is, no matter how many courses or hoops they jump through no one will sign the release!! There is hardly anyone willing to put their name on the paper, just in case they re-offend.
20/1/2011 RachelWhen the truth is its the guys who have been on an IPP that are LEAST likely to offend I think...
20/1/2011 mrs taylor -Hi I have just read all of the comments about Ipp sentences, my son had a two yr tariff, he finally was moved to a cat d open prison in december,after putting up with delay upon delay for his parole hearing, he waited 3yrs, he has so far served almost 6yrs.When he was moved in december he was told that his next parole hearing was July 2011, he just heard yesterday that it has been moved to Jan 2012, I cannot believe how cruel these people are its a surprise to me that more prisoners have not commited suicide! To give hope so often and then in the blink of an eye take it away is a bigger offence to the human race than a lot of offences commited by the prisoners! The mental strain prisoners are already under and then the parole board do this to them, I am disgusted! Sonya
20/1/2011 rosie cash - - face booki just hope for all the ppl with this ipp,ken clark keeps to his word and scraps this silly ipp dont keep makeing promis that he dont keep
21/1/2011 RachelRosie- Oh I agree, my partner is due out when (if) ken clarke makes this announcement & the day cant come quick enough for me, or him for that matter. Hes served more than enough time already, the sentance given was way too long for the crime in the first place. But I wont lie, the IPP had made him grow up a hell of a lot. But not everyone is the same.
23/1/2011 kirsty wLike many others my partner was sentenced to a short tariff in 2005, now 4 years past his tariff he still has no date for another parole hearing - it was nearly 2 years since his last one and he was told his next one would be in 12 months - but we've heard nothing.
25/1/2011 hendo -the biggest problem is the people who write the reports on future release. they are too scared to commit in case it ruins their career paths. my son is 12 years into a 10 year tarrif. has to wait 18 months for next parole hearing and that will prob be delayed as they are all so inept. dont think ken clark will do anything..
26/1/2011 RachelI hope to god that Ken Clarke can & will do something. These people who are scared of ruining their career don't realise that they are ruining more lives by doing so, not only the prisoner but his family & friends too. It seems to me that they just think it makes for an easier life to deny them parole & forget about them.....
27/1/2011 wendi -my partner was given an 18mths IPP in 2006 and just had his third parole hearing which was a farce they made a judgement even before they went in. the parole board need to change their aproach in cases of Ipp's
28/1/2011 margaretinmates that are up for parole just need to pray that the members are not suffering from a hangover or had a bad start to the day !!!! my nephew was turned down 3 times plus was looked at and spoken to as if he was dirt on their shoe,so i truley believe they have the minds made up even before the inmate goes in..
31/1/2011 RachelIt appears not just the parole board are slow at this...My other half has been telling his solicitor for months now that she needs to write a report for the parole board before he can have a date....only after a letter threatening legal action has she started to write it up! The whole thing is a mess! How are they meant to have a glimmer of hope with a system like this...
13/2/2011 Lindsey CHi I really need help,
15/2/2011 Rachel -Try searching on google for either prisonersadvice
20/8/2011 amymy partner has been sentenced to 3 years in prison. to my understanding that he will be released automatically half way through at 16 months. also he is eligible for hdc nut i do not know when. can someone please give me a bit more information when he might be likely be released on hdc (tag). he was sentenced on 4/8/2011. thanks
26/9/2012 Steve smithMy son got an IPP with a 12 month tarrif, he did all the courses he was asked to do, then they said to him we are introducing a new course that covers all the one you have done. It takes 18 months and it docent start for another 8 months because we havent got the staff trained to administer it yet. He finished that course 18 months ago. He got his D cat at his last parole waited aboutanother 6 or 7 months was led to believe he would be able to go to a local college to be trained as a carpenter after a few months lay down.
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