Ken Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, is today announcing a review of sentencing policy. He is quite rightly concerned about the high level of re-offending by people who have served a short term prison sentence for a non-violent offence. The Lib Dems fought the election arguing that sentencing policy was counterproductive because those convicted of low level offences and sent to prison were coming out as better trained criminals who went on to re-offend. The effect was an increase in crime in the UK, rather than a cut. Clearly something had to change.
It now looks like Ken Clarke is introducing that change. It is absolutely right that offenders are punished. Rather than all of them going to prison colleges of crime, Lib Dems have rightly argued that some who are first offenders, and whose crime was non-violent, could be punished through community payback. In other words, punishment would be a requirement to work unpaid on projects that directly benefit the community, such as cleaning up graffiti.
The advantages with this system of community payback are that justice is seen to be done, the community gets a benefit, offenders are rehabilitated more effectively and offenders are not put into the company of large numbers of experienced offenders who can tutor them to be more effective criminals.
The fact that Ken Clarke, the Conservative Justice Secretary, is introducing this change should hopefully put to rest the claim that community justice for some is not being "soft on crime". That was a sterile argument in which the likes of Labour's Blunkett and Reid engaged. Their tough talk and posturing simply led to more trained criminals and more crime.
That said, it was interesting to experience the BBC today twice accuse Ken Clarke of being a Liberal Democrat because of the policies he looks set to introduce.
Sent via BlackBerry