In the Media

Kenneth Clarke is denying ex-criminals a right to be treated equally | Erwin James

PUBLISHED January 31, 2012

The justice secretary's decision to ban ex-offenders from claiming compensation for crimes against them is discriminatory

The announcement by Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, that people with criminal convictions will be banned from claiming compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority when they themselves have been victims of crime is a massive smack in the face for his much touted criminal justice "rehabilitation revolution". For some time, Clarke has been trying to persuade the wider community and the more cynical in his party that it makes good fiscal sense to allow people in prison to use their time constructively in work and education so that when they are released, they are less likely to reoffend. So far so good. More than half of all crime is committed by people with previous convictions, and reoffending by people who have served time in jail is estimated to cost the rest of society between ?9bn and ?11bn a year.

But this does not mean they are not human. In any case so long as we have a prison system which lets the majority of people out ? the current prisoner population is over 88,000 and rising ? then it is vital that they are let out motivated and able to succeed as social contributors. But successful rehabilitation requires a two-way commitment. If we really want our system to work effectively then once people who have committed crimes have served their time, completed their sentence, paid their debt and shown that they want to live crime-free lives, then society needs to demonstrate a greater level of acceptance.

Discrimination against people with criminal convictions is already rife in the job market. Accessing financial services once you have declared that you have been in prison is almost impossible. Even finding accommodation is made more difficult when you state on the application form that you are an ex-offender. Recently, a new tax was also imposed on the earnings of prisoners who are lucky enough to find work when they get to open prisons and are nearing the end of their sentences. As well as their income tax and national insurance, they have to pay a 40% surcharge on what they have left to the charity Victim Support. The merits of the scheme are debatable, but the reality is that it is just another discriminatory obstacle on the path to a fresh start. It was already the case that people with criminal convictions were treated differently by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.

While they could indeed submit a claim, any money that might be received is reduced dependent on the extent of their past criminal behaviour. This policy includes compensation payments to the families of people with criminal convictions. Last year, the family of a man killed in the 2010 Cumbrian shooting spree had to make do with only half the compensation offered to the families of Bird's other victims: it had been 20 years since their loved one had been convicted of any crime other than a litter-dropping offence two years before he was killed. It made no difference ? in the eyes of those running the compensation scheme, he was less valuable than the other victims.

A source "close to the justice secretary" told a tabloid newspaper "thugs make a claim if they end up injured in a punch-up. We've got to get compensation to victims". Nobody can deny that anyone who has been traumatised by someone else in some type of criminal action deserves to be compensated. But such political claptrap will serve only to bolster discrimination and widen the social division of which people with criminal convictions are already on the lower side. There are eight million people on the government's "offender index." Ken Clarke is saying that they are all less valuable and by definition less human than others. A disappointing take from a minister I always thought had more about him.

? Follow Comment is free on Twitter @commentisfree © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds