Early release is axed

The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has decided that in order to better protect the public he needs to keep people in prison for longer. His announcement is that those who commit sexual crimes against children, violent crimes such as grievous bodily harm and crimes classed as terrorism shouldn’t be automatically released after they have served half of their sentence. Criminals who have an E.D.S (extended determinate sentence) will no longer be automatically released after 2/3rds of their sentence.  Instead he wants to put in place an independent parole board to decide if these people are still a threat to their community before they are released and impose strict conditions, whatever that may mean.

This seems like a sensible policy. However beware the words ‘Grayling’ and ‘sense’ as often the two don’t mix. This policy will only affect 600 criminals a year according to estimates. The prison population according to the Department of justice’s own figures is 84,424 and the system is operating at 98% capacity. This change in policy will not even affect 1% of the prison population it is essentially a small measure which shouldn’t be a major announcement.  This latest announcement has everything to do with popular opinion as traditionally tough justice is what Britons love. In fact 80% of people in an express poll think such a measure is good.

Popularity of this measure will only increase when well-known cases come to light. One particularly chilling case is that of Jon Venables who was one of the killers of Jamie Bulger. He was released inexplicably without a reason being given according to their solicitor. The mother of Jamie Bulger said “I feel totally let down, I finally felt as if I was getting somewhere and then they just go and push me off the cliff you know, I just can’t believe how I’m getting treated.” This new policy is aimed at not letting dangerous criminals being let out for the sake of being let out which is completely right. Indeed when John Venables was first released nine years later he was back in prison due to accessing child pornography.  This case does highlight the danger of releasing prisoners early without realising the possible dangers.

This policy is also based on a view with how justice should operate and how rehabilitation should be managed.  Grayling talked about teaching prisoners a lesson that early release is something they have to earn.  Norway takes a different approach. There they suffer re-offending rates of around 30% whereas the latest figures show we have a re-offending rate of around 56.8%. This is where criminals take part in crimes just a year after being sentenced.  The differences are astounding both in the way we treat prisoners and in the rehabilitation rate.

Grayling’s plan is either merely pandering to the electorate or a symptom of a failed ideology which has plagued our justice system for decades. It fails to cover a long term strategy, and the way to stop people re-offending isn’t by locking people up longer because we can’t lock people up forever. Like Norway we have to treat prisoners like people and give each and every one an opportunity to better themselves which is something we are not currently doing. Like I said earlier ‘sense’ and ‘Grayling’ are two words which don’t go together often. Unfortunately this is another time when they come so close to meeting and yet they miss each other so spectacularly. The policy is a tiny part of our justice system and it is right we tackle this. However under this Justice Secretary we have yet again failed to address the needs of our prisoners and thus are failing them and endangering ourselves.