Ed Miliband: ‘I still believe in prison reform’


10:00 am - May 20th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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Ed Miliband has written an article for today’s Independent titled: Why I was right to demand that Clarke should go.

He starts off by attacking Ken Clarke for his recent comments:

In interviews he talked of “serious rape” involving “violence and an unwilling woman”.

He differentiated between “serious attacks” and “date rape”. He talked of “classic rape”. In this he wasn’t just insensitive. He was wrong.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council makes it clear that no one form of rape is inherently a more serious violation to the victim than another.

He goes on to talk about his policy on reforming the prison justice system.

This means:

– No reduction in sentencing or leniency for serious crimes including rape.

Halving sentences for violent criminals including rapists who plead guilty will do nothing to increase safety on our streets and it gives prison reform a bad name.

– Focus on rehabilitation and reform when it comes to some minor crimes:

In February I told an audience: “Tougher prison sentences aren’t always the answer. I think there are times when people get locked up and come out as harder criminals. Some non-violent offenders can be better punished with a tough community sentence, working off their debt to communities over months rather than getting off with a few days in jail.

“I’ll support the Government if they bring forward sensible proposals to deal with drugs in prisons and drug addiction and mental illness among offenders.”

That audience was not a Howard League meeting. It was readers of The Sun newspaper.

– Saying the government isn’t interested in reform, but merely cuts

Their prison policy is based not on the need for reform or increased rehabilitation for offenders. It is based on the need to cut costs. Their police policy isn’t based on what will make the streets safer but how to quickly find a 20 per cent cut in the police budget.

Only a Justice Secretary who has allowed cutting his departmental budget to be put ahead of real reform could accept an arbitrary cut in prison places.

Sounds like a sensible and populist position to take.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Sunny,

Sounds like a sensible and populist position to take.

I’m not sure that is a particularly common combination there…

And as for Mr Milliband’s wonderful statement:

Halving sentences for violent criminals including rapists who plead guilty will do nothing to increase safety on our streets and it gives prison reform a bad name.

I’ll grant you that’s populist, but sensible? How does that differ from halving prison sentances for dangerous criminals who admit their crimes and behave well – in effect it is the same principle of facing up to your actions being rewarded. So in order to be consistent Mr Milliband (who is showing signs of not thinking things through a bit too much…) would also have to oppose allowing reducing sentances for dangerous criminals, even if they were no longer judged dangerous…

2. Flowerpower

Halving sentences for violent criminals including rapists who plead guilty will do nothing to increase safety on our streets and it gives prison reform a bad name.

The dishonesty here is breathtaking. Miliband’s own Labour government introduced the system where they get a third off their sentence.

The issue today is about the difference between a third and a half. But he is trying to make out like Clarke is going to “halve” time served.

The populist position will be that Ed is “kicking a man when he’s already down” – it’s not very sporting.

Ken Clarke is a fundamentally decent guy (possibly the most decent of the Tories) who expressed himself clumsily. For ANY crime, no matter how horrible, some occurrences are more serious than others. Why pillory Ken because the particular crime in question happens to be rape?

Please also note that Ed’s proposed reform consists of only 2 points (the third is just a Yah! Boo! Sucks! criticism of the current government policy):
1) NO leniency for serious crimes – which party did you say Ed led? And is Michael Howard a member?
Focus on rehabilitation & reform for some minor crimes – so rehabilitation is only a goal for amateur criminals then?

In short, Ed has shown that he has no honour and nothing to suggest.

4. Chaise Guevara

So basically he’s cherry-picking phrases, choosing to misinterpret words, and ignoring clarifications. Populist indeed.

I’d say it’s populist, and leave it at that.

I’d say it’s populist, and leave it at that.

Indeed.

I don’t like Ed Miliband as Labour leader. I think David would have been better.

8. Edward Carlsson Browne

Sure, Labour introduced the principle of a third off. But it was hardly a flagship policy and therefore it’s legitimate to question it – I’m not saying Miliband is personally, but it would be legitimate for him to do so.

I’d certainly argue not just that he’s right about it giving prison reform a bad name, but also that with historic underfunding of rehabilitation and the difficulty of building capacity there quickly, long sentences are a better idea – it means people are more likely to be there when the rehabilitation places come up.

Aside from punishment, the main justification for imprisonment is to protect society at large from those who break its rules. Releasing people before we do something to make them less likely to reoffend is hardly likely to accomplish that.

Obviously I’m not suggesting we could afford to lock everybody up indefinitely (or that that’d be legitimate on human rights grounds) but if we’re going to incarcerate, we may as well get the best policy outcome from it that we can.

9. So Much For Subtlety

“No reduction in sentencing or leniency for serious crimes including rape.
…. Focus on rehabilitation and reform when it comes to some minor crimes …. Sounds like a sensible and populist position to take.”

I am not so sure that is sensible. What he means is that minor crimes will not be punished much if at all. Serious crimes will. What that means is an explosion in those sorts of crimes which do not attract tough penalties but have a seriously disproportionate impact on communities as young people discover that being drunk and disorderly, or beating each other up, or destroying property is essentially unpunished. And so their offending will escalate – until the gate is dropped on them and they are doing serious time for a serious crime.

This is not a good idea. Ideally all crime would be punished reliably and moderately – but with a steady increase in tariff. Not a sudden jump like this. The worst of all worlds is to punish minor crime not at all, and then major crime unexpectedly harshly.


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