Since taking over the Ministry of Justice, Chris Grayling has waged war on probation, cut access to legal aid to the most vulnerable, and, more recently, taken books away from those most needing inspiration, while blocking an inquiry into sex in prisons. Where will his attacks on criminal justice end?
Government policy has never before shifted so drastically in one Parliament. Ken Clarke led the Coalition through much needed reform of how the criminal justice system rehabilitates offenders.
He called for an end to short prison sentences, where inmates are in the system for too short a time to be rehabilitated.
Private companies and not-for-profit organisations who help offenders escape a life of crime were to be given financial reward for rehabilitating offenders through work.
Clarke, supporting avidly the Work and Pensions department ethos that work is the way out of poverty and criminality, was leading a rehabilitation revolution. Nick Clegg once even claimed Clarke to be his ‘sixth Liberal Democrat minister‘ around the cabinet table. This couldn’t be further from the truth, but does serve to illustrate the sheer contrast with his controversial successor.
Fast forward two years. We now have renowned “attack dog“ Chris Grayling, and Ken Clarke’s Rehabilitation Revolution has all but been forgotten.
The message coming out of the Department of Justice is a no to books in prisons, an end of legal aid ‘abuses‘, and an indignant obstruction to prison rape investigations. This is a message laced with connotations to a backwards justice programme, motivated by a sadistic fixation on retribution, at the expense of a balanced approach which both punishes toughly and successfully rehabilitates.
Innocent, law-abiding, and hard-working people are being put at increased risk to the criminality of reoffenders by Grayling’s slowing down of the great rehabilitation work started by Ken Clarke.
To cut reoffending, Clarke started the measures to supervise released prisoners in an effort to bring down the cost of criminal justice by tackling reoffending, and protecting citizens.
Through pilot schemes, Clarke’s blueprint focused on finding the way to realize the potential of the voluntary and private sectors in rehabilitating criminals.
These pilot schemes were ditched by Grayling soon after taking over.
Instead, Grayling is pressing ahead with an 80% outsourcing of probation services without regard for outcomes of the innovative pilot schemes Grayling hastily cancelled. Clarke’s reforms are now at threat of going down the drain.
Currently there is concern as to whether it will work. A report by Leading watchdogs at the end of last year concluded that the offender management model is failing, calling into question whether the current system is fit to implement the transformative rehabilitation programme.
The presence of Chris Grayling and his antagonistic running of the Justice Department will do little to boost confidence, and foster the right relationships needed to ensure what could be a flagship success of the current government. Indeed, many probation officers have quit their profession in demonstration against reforms to the service which Grayling is in charge of.
Is he really the right person to handle such a sensitive area of reform? That is before considering that he is the first Lord Chancellor in nearly 400 without any legal background.
Legal aid cuts, book restrictions, and a refused inquiry into sex in prisons
It is not just the danger of criminals which the Justice Secretary is escalating–Chris Grayling is also presiding over a 33% budget cut to legal aid, denying the innocent and most vulnerable access to criminal justice-to the dismay of legal professionals.
Only last month thousands of lawyers staged the latest in a series of walkouts against the Grayling’s crippling cutbacks. The CBA and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) say the £550 million cut is financially unnecessary and threatens the criminal justice system.
Grayling yet again came under fire for his crackdown on book access to inmates, a vital source for education and reading in prisons. This is a consequence of the hardened version of Clarke’s Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme (IEPS) adapted by Grayling last year.
The Scheme does not link books or magazines with earned privilege whatsoever, let alone register books as a healthy and basic item. Grayling has defended the crackdown, arguing that checking weekly parcels for 80,000 prisoners is a ‘logistical impossibility.’
This is not very convincing given that for at least the last 20 years prisoners have been sent books, and his reported refusal currently to even engage in meetings to find a more appropriate outcome is perhaps more telling.
Most recently, Grayling appears to be doing all he can to help ensure that sexual diseases are a fixture in British prisons. Politics.co.uk last week reported that the Lord Chancellor baulked at an inquiry into sex in prisons which was investigating how common rape or consensual sexual relationships were in prison.
Grayling reportedly demanded that condoms be removed from prisons and refused the investigation access to prisoners.
This refusal denies the government a clear idea of prison rape prevalence. This is another cog in Grayling’s mission to make prisons resemble ”a regime that is more spartan unless you do the right thing.”
The revolving door of reoffending is one which Grayling is charged now with attempting to close. Worryingly, he is attempting to do this with no regard for evidence.
He is setting his Department up to fail in an area of government policy which is simply too critical in importance to be left to a minister with questionable intuition and a lust for needless confrontation.
It was once one of the most understated of innovative department reform programmes, quietly going about potentially brilliant reform to the criminal justice system.
It is now a department whose bold and “attack dog” whims are at the forefront of public consciousness.
Grayling may enjoy basking in the spotlight of the “Toynbee Left” but ultimately his bulldozing pursuits are only helping Labour win the argument over an area of policy which almost always features near the top of IPSOs-Mori polls of biggest issues facing Britain today.