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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Empty our prisons but pay for the consequences

Empty our prisons but pay for the consequences

Ken Clarke's desires for reform hinge on providing an alternative to incarceration

By Nick Cohen

I have been arguing that the prison system is a malignant failure for so long I can remember denouncing it when Ken Clarke was last home secretary. The case is worth repeating however, because a heatwave brings unusual squalor. The glare of the sunlight reveals the state's indifference to the men and women under its charge.

If you believe the more excitable conservative papers, we live in a country tyrannised by health and safety fanatics. Yet the supposed jobsworths at the Ministry of Justice treat the rules governing the humane treatment of offenders with contempt as they pack convicts into jails which are already over capacity.

Prisons are a squalid, because Labour played the hard man and the cheapskate at the same time. Tony Blair willed the end of a tough crime policy, but Gordon Brown would not provide the money to build and run the extra prisons the harsh approach required. The result is that about 20,000 prisoners are doubled-up in tiny cells designed for one.

Labour's dereliction of duty has a further grim consequence. Governors do not have enough guards to supervise prisoners or teachers to rehabilitate them. So from Friday night until Monday morning, thousands of inmates are locked two to a stinking cell for 22 hours a day with nothing to look at except the lavatory and their bunks.

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