David Blackburn

Howard versus Clarke

Howard versus Clarke
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Michael Howard appeared on today's Daily Politics and laid into Ken Clarke's 'caricature' of a policy to reduce prison places. There is, Howard argues and John Denham supported him, a correlation between increasing the number of those incarcerated and a fall in crime. In other words, prison still works. Howard criticised Clarke's 'rather foolish' denial of that link. Howard echoes the Spectator's editorial line that early release endangers society, and that it costs less in real terms to keep criminals in prison.

Howard's off-message critique is the most total I have yet seen, particularly on the statistical case against the government's position. It is significant that it came from a former Home Secretary, Tory leader and mentor to David Cameron, who campaigned with a pledge to increase the number of prison places. You can watch it here.

The upshot of these exchanges is that the coalition's rhetoric is self-defeating. Clarke's denial of a link between prison places and the crime rate allows his opponents to strike at him and characterise his view. What the government actually means is that prison doesn't work as well as it should, that causation, prevention and reformation are more important than correlation; or at least that they ought to be. Anne Owers, the former chief inspectatot of prisons, made that point recently using statistics on re-offending, the sense of short-term sentences and prison education schemes that support elements of the government's case.