Theresa May accepted her Spectator Politician of the Year award with the quip: 'It used to be a joke that I lock them up and Ken Clarke lets them out, now they say I lock them up and Chris Grayling throws away the key.' The right wing press, as Ken Clarke is given to calling it, is much enamoured with Grayling and May. ConservativeHome’s Mark Wallace describes them as the ‘dynamic duo’, and writes a long appreciation of their ‘increasingly strong message on crime’.
There is, of course, as Wallace concedes, more to governing than messages. The Mail on Sunday carries a small item about reoffending rates under the headline ‘scandal of prisoners who strike again’. 5 years have passed since David Cameron and Nick Herbert, who was then Shadow Justice Secretary, promised a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ and yet here we are. The Mail reports:
‘In 2011, 356 adult offenders committed serious violent or sexual offences after release from a sentence of less than a year, while a further 2,482 committed serious ‘acquisitive’ crimes such as robbery within 12 months of being released. There were also 37,804 thefts and 15,355 lower-level violent assaults by reoffenders.’
Those figures are disappointing; and one mustn’t forget that the crimes for which offenders are convicted are a fraction of what they commit. In August 2010, the criminologist Ken Pease published a report for the think-tank Civitas in which he quoted an estimate that there are 130 burglaries per conviction. He estimated that crime costs the taxpayer £10bn a year.
The underlying issue, here, is the Conservatives’ failure to reform criminals to stop petty lags turn into habitual criminals. The Mail’s piece gives Chris Grayling a pretty easy ride (although, to be fair, he wasn't Justice Secretary until September 2012). It's short and sweet, and gives him the last word: ‘We currently have a situation where each year thousands of crimes are being committed by offenders who have already broken the law. It is little surprise when those on short sentences walk out the prison gates with little or no support. Enough is enough.’ I wonder: if Ken Clarke was still Justice Secretary, would the Mail have been so lenient with these dismal figures and the human misery associated with them?
Grayling is right to identify the lack of support for prisoners on short sentences; he is in agreement with Clarke on that if nothing else. But the question remains as it was in 2010, when Clarke was battling critics from the right, who thought he was soft, and from the left, who thought he was tight-fisted. Are there sufficient resources – from general taxation, the private sector and the tertiary sector – to provide the required remedial support? As Ken Pease, the Prison Reform Trust and others all noted back in 2010, remedial programmes without money are worthless.