Crime and punishment: Govt policy under attack

By Ian Dunt

The government’s criminal justice policy came under attack from all sides today as it faced numerous reports criticising its priorities, and objections to Jack Straw’s decision to prevent Ronnie Biggs’ parole.

Audio interview: Cherie Booth

The first salvo came in a report by the influential Commons justice committee, which condemned the British political debate around sentencing as incoherent, unintelligible and unsustainable.

Tougher than you: Debate on crime ‘makes the situation worse’

MPs said the endless battle between Labour and the Tories to appear tough on crime actually created more criminality, by failing to tackle its underlying causes.

The second attack came from an unexpected corner, with Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie Booth QC, leading the publication of a report which called on the government to shut down prisons, give up central control of penal policy and replace short prison sentences with community punishments.

Govt told to close prisons

Both reports highlight the authoritarian stance of the government on the issue of criminal justice.

Many penal reform advocates have long criticised government policy in this regard, which they claimed is geared towards tabloid editors rather than empirically tested methods of reducing offending.

Audio interview: Frances Crook

The reports were given extra momentum today with the increased criticism around justice secretary Mr Straw’s decision to deny Mr Biggs parole.

Jack Straw criticised for Biggs decision

The decision puts him at odds with the parole board, who had said the great train robber could go free.

Mr Straw described him as “wholly unrepentant”.

Analysis: Breaking out of the prison places lock-in