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Wednesday, June 20, 2007 

Overcrowded with the same old nonsense.

It's incredibly rare that I feel even slightly sorry for this government, for the simple reason that it has brought nearly all of the problems it faces now down directly on its own head. The prison overcrowding crisis is most certainly of New Labour's own making, but it definitely isn't the fault of Lord Falconer, the hapless minister now taking the flak. He's been made to look idiotic because of his promise that there would be no early releases only a month ago, but this is a mess of John Reid's creation, with him handily being outside the frame due to the creation of the new Ministry of Justice. In any case, both he and Falconer are likely to be out of a job by next week - Reid already having announced his return to the backbenches, and Falconer unlikely to keep his position in Brown's reshuffle.

To treat New Labour with a fairness they don't deserve, they weren't the architects of the "prison works" mantra which has become gospel to the tabloids and right-wingers and is the true root cause of this latest stupidity; Michael Howard was. The murder of James Bulger almost certainly also had a similar chilling effect on penal policy, even though his death was a macabre, disturbing, freak crime which only tends to occur once in a generation. It did however make people question how two ten-year-olds could possibly do such a thing, with a sick society being one of the easy things to point the finger at. At the heart of this was the belief that criminality in general was being treated with too light a touch, something reprised today when the Scum blames judges for being soft when the prison statistics bear out the fact that they are anything but.

Even so, New Labour has not just continued with Howard's stated aims, it's accelerated them, and with every passing year a new criminal justice bill has brought ever tougher penalties and the creation of new imprisonable offences. When Labour came to power the prison population stood at just over 60,000; within 10 years it's increased by 20,000. Labour additionally, despite the claims of the Scum, has also in that time built 9 new prisons, creating those 20,000 places which have been filled as soon as they were available.

By the reaction which both the Scum and the Tories have opted to go for, you'd imagine that the ministers had suddenly decided to throw the doors of the prisons wide open and let anyone and everyone walk out. Instead, the plans for early release are so timid that within months we'll have the same problem again, with the Home Office admitting that by October crisis point will have been hit. Only those serving sentences of 4 years or less, and not imprisoned for violent or sexual offences will be considered for early release, and even then they'll have to go before a parole board which will consider if they pose a danger to the public or not. Those released will in effect spend the last 18 days of their sentence out on license with a tag, not just let out scot free. Around 1,500 to 1,800 will be immediately eligible for early reason, which will free up places for those currently being held in police and magistrates cells at an obscene cost of up to £1million a week, where facilities consist of a bare cell, toilet and a hard bed, which is not exactly conducive to rehabilitation.

This is why the howls of anguish and outrage from the Scum and Tories are so self-serving and pathetic. They've never had it so good: a party with a prime minister who cares more what the Scum thinks about criminals and prisons than it does what criminologists and reformists do, which has gone along completely with their ever tougher stance on even minor crime, even while crime itself has been shown to have fallen to a historic low, completely ignoring the fact that overcrowding itself is the main cause of re-offending, as it means that rehabilitation is nigh on impossible when prisoners find themselves banged up for increasingly longer periods, unable to get access to education, schemes to ween themselves off drug addictions, or to the health care that many with mental health problems so desperately need. To read the Scum's George Pascoe-Watson with a straight face write how wonderful today's prisons are, with a choice of seven different meals and a television in the cell, ignoring completely how you don't happen to be on your own but instead with other highly dangerous people who you can't trust for a second, not to mention the mind-numbing boredom involved in being banged up is to look into a world where highly-paid hacks who've never so much as been questioned by police except when they're asked how much they'll be paid for providing information about what murder victims were wearing when they were killed spit on their own readers.

The government, having been aware that this was going to happen, has had two options. It either continues on the path it's taken, continues to build more prisons or make places available, or it about turns, emphasises that prison does not work except to keep the public safe from the truly dangerous, makes community sentences for lesser offences more attractive to judges and takes on the newspapers that argue otherwise. It has instead done neither, and Reid didn't help himself by telling the Scum that he'd turn old MoD bases into makeshift open prisons, something that local communities would have rightly opposed, as they are completely unsuitable for such use, as well as look into buying "prison ships", when none of the ports want them and when the only one that was in use
was condemned by the inspector of prisons.

It's difficult to stomach a newspaper that has been instrumental in creating this fiasco, with New Labour almost in effect making Rebekah Wade the home secretary, having the balls to criticise ministers for their failings, but then nothing will ever be good enough for Murdoch's minions, a trap which Blair has repeatedly fell into.

THE prisons crisis is a stinking national scandal.

Much like this very newspaper.

And the Labour government has only itself to blame.

True, for indulging your fuckwitted arguments and petty prejudices for 10 years.

Ministers have known for years that we need more jails — but wilfully refused to build them.

And just where pray are they meant to? Has the Scum ever offered a single sensible proposal for a prison other than pie-in-the-sky nonsense about camps and ships?

While they dithered, the jail population has hit a record 81,000 — double the number 15 years ago.

As a direct result of the Scum's ceaseless campaigns and own sheer lack of backbone.

That record will be broken again next month, with lags crammed three to a cell — fertile ground for riots.

Really? I thought prisons were idyllic, happy places where you get your meals brought to you and where Sky Digital is plentiful?

How does the government respond?

Laughable Justice Minister Charlie Falconer is setting 25,500 drug peddlers and burglars loose early.

This is a nonsense figure which the Scum and Tories have arrived at by looking at the projections for the number of prison places that are going to be needed by the end of next year, then ignoring that those serving sentences longer than 4 years are still going to be getting out in the meantime, freeing up places, coming to the wrong conclusion that 25,500 prisoners are going to have be released to cover those newly sentenced. Surprisingly, it doesn't work like that.

This crisis did not come out of a clear blue sky.

The Sun has been campaigning for years for prison ships.

We called for thousands of foreign criminals to be sent home.

Neither of which offers are real kind of solution, as those countries unsurprisingly don't want them back, at least until they've finished the sentences.

Yet a succession of Home Secretaries failed in their most important duty — protecting the public. They’d rather see hundreds of murderers, rapists and terrorists walk through open prison gates.

I'd say that they've succeeded - crime has fallen dramatically, although it was already doing so before they came to power, and now only those who are no danger to the public will be released; the Sun's hyperbole only underlines the lack of rigour in its argument.

Villains in jail cannot commit crime.

And without those prisons, we are all more likely to become victims of crime.

Because everyone in jail is a villain, as we know, and the fact that the prisons are going to be hopelessly overcrowded whatever the government does, unless it completely changes course, means that those who are released are ever more likely to re-offend as a result. Whatever the government does it loses, all as a result of its initial mistake in even attempting to ride the Murdoch and Rothermere tigers.
P.S. The following comment on the reports into Iran capturing the 15 sailors is a complete joke:

NOBODY would say the 15 sailors captured by Iran in Gulf waters covered themselves with glory.

Nor did the hostages improve matters by selling their stories when they were freed.

This would be the same Sun newspaper which contributed towards the £100,000 paid to Faye Turney for selling her story to the err, Sun.

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