In the Media

Clarke's prison plans: the prospects are looking as grim as ever

PUBLISHED September 20, 2011

Riots may have put paid to justice secretary's proposal to restrict use of remand in custody When the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, revealed that 75% of the rioters brought before the courts had previous convictions, it appeared he had managed to rescue his "rehabilitation revolution" to stabilise the record prison population. But, only a few weeks later, the prospects are beginning to look as grim as ever. Clarke's widely-criticised comments over rape sentencing triggered the loss of one key part of his plans ? increased discounts for the earliest guilty pleas ? before the riots. Now the riots look as though they might have put paid to his next most important proposal: restricting the use of remand in custody for those offences that carry only a custodial sentence on conviction. The 65% remand rate for those awaiting trial for riot-related offences, compared with the normal figure of 10%, does not bode well for trying to persuade Tory backbenchers that they need to bite their tongues and vote for the sentencing package. Now Clarke's justice minister, Lord McNally, has weighed in against any kneejerk "tough on crime" measures being imposed on the package in reaction to the riots. At three separate fringe meetings in the last 18 hours, the Lib Dem has hit out at Downing Street for insisting that the word "punishment" be inserted in the legal aid and sentencing bill. At one, he said the "little elves that work in No 10 helping the prime minister" had been at work. At another, he said he had warned Conservative ministers not to turn the measure into a "Christmas tree bill" loaded with new baubles. "If a policy has too many changes between the Commons and the Lords, the Lords is entitled to send it back to the Commons for further study," he said, implicitly warning of revolt against measures such as docking benefits of convicted rioters and evicting their families from social housing now being contemplated in Downing Street. At a Social Market Foundation fringe meeting on Tuesday, Tom Brake, the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, suggested Downing Street had insisted on changing the name to the "legal aid, sentencing and punishment bill" in order to "give the right image to the Daily Mail and the Daily Express". Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be working. Kenneth Clarke Liberal-Conservative coalition Liberal Democrat conference 2011 Liberal Democrat conference Prisons and probation UK criminal justice Public services policy Conferences Alan Travis © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds