To no one’s great surprise, Liz Truss has opted to steer clear of sentencing reform and rejected calls to reduce prison numbers in the UK. Our prison system may be in its most parlous state for decades, but the justice secretary has demonstrated that she is no more likely than any of her predecessors to stray from the “tough on crime” mantra that got us here in the first place.
The parole board chair and former chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, had presented her with a golden opportunity to safely release some 500 prisoners through executive clemency. These prisoners are currently serving imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences and have already been imprisoned for more than the usual maximum sentences for their offences. Eschewing political courage, she switched her attention to the need to do more to divert those with mental health and substance misuse problems and urged better use of treatment orders and community sentences: nothing new there.
The difficult bit is what to do in prisons, and Monday night’s BBC Panorama investigation brought into stark relief what we already knew: prisons are in crisis, staff are losing control and drugs are easier to obtain in prison than on the outside. The only thing the programme shied away from was the inconvenient truth that is corruption, the most likely route in for large quantities of “spice”, tin snips and balaclavas.
We are promised 2,500 raw recruits, more drug testing, dog sniffing, mobile…