RORY Stewart, the well-meaning Prisons Minister, has staked his reputation on penal reform. He has said he will resign if violence, and drug use, is not reduced in 10 jails – including six in this region – which are said to have “acute problems”.
Yet, while his sincerity is laudable, the Ministry of Justice – and others – must not ignore, or overlook, the needs and wishes of victims of crime in this debate. They, too, have rights which also need to be taken into consideration.
Transparency over crime and punishment is key as plans by David Gauke, the Justice Secretary who is part of the Cabinet triumvirate attempting to thwart a no-deal Brexit, and Mr Stewart, to scrap short sentences come under fire from the Civitas think-tank today which fears a potential crime-wave if “prolific thieves and burglars” are given an effective amnesty.
Though Mr Stewart believes that imprisoning an offender for a few weeks means they “lose their house, their job, their family, their reputation”, he needs to demonstrate how a more lenient approach will make Britain’s streets safer and that this policy is not just a ruse to mask the failure of successive governments to address prison overcrowding.
And it is the same with the desire of Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, to put community rehabilitation at the heart of a two-year initiative, being launched today, to tackle reoffending.
An acknowledgement by him that the current system is failing victims because too many ‘‘career criminals’’ are not mending their ways when released from prison, this approach – together with the Government’s changes to sentencing – will only succeed with public support. This means clear evidence that community-based punishments are reducing reoffending – the primary objective – and victims being persuaded that justice has been fulfilled. These are the tests.