Is Michael Gove right to focus on prisoner rehabilitation rather than punishment in his prison building programme?
Serial Conservative rebel Philip Davies is unhappy that Michael Gove is “going native”, in his eyes focusing too strongly on prisoner rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Gove, who annoyed teachers across the country with his right-wing reforms when education secretary, gave a brilliant riposte in parliament: ‘I’m not sure that members on the opposite benches would agree that I’ve become a sandal-wearing, muesli-munching vegan vapester …
“It’s because I’m a Conservative, I believe that evil must be punished. But it’s also because I’m a Conservative, and a Christian, that I believe in redemption. And I think the purpose of our prison system is to keep people safe by making people better.”
But demolishing dirty old prisons that typically foster criminal minds and replacing them with up-to-date facilities that will help re-educate prisoners is a plan that clearly distances him from his predecessor Chris Grayling. Indeed, many Conservative MPs point out that if the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour opposition was not in the midst of civil war, the government would be badly hurt by the number of policies Gove has overturned.
Make no mistake, the state of English and Welsh prisons is one of the major reasons why around half of offenders are again convicted within 12 months of release
These include U-turns on prisoner book bans and recruiting extra officers after 10,000 were cut in the last parliament. Gove has, in effect, admitted the Conservatives had got most things wrong in the MoJ during the coalition years.
But the prison building programme is more than just a change of policy direction from the previous three years; it actually delivers on the catchphrase that made Tony Blair famous when he was shadow home secretary in the early 1990s: “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.”
Make no mistake, the state of English and Welsh prisons is one of the major reasons why around half of offenders are again convicted within 12 months of release. More pertinently, this rate is higher if the offender was on a sentence of less than a year in the first place, illustrating that poor conditions in jails only encourage further criminality.
Gove is getting tough on one of the major causes of crime and the construction industry will both benefit from juicy contracts and will be able to take satisfaction on making our streets much safer.
Mark Leftly is deputy political editor at The Independent on Sunday and a business commentator for The Independent