Crispin Blunt is carpeted for the wrong thing
By Tim Montgomerie
Some quick observations on the furore over justice minister Crispin Blunt's decision to scrap Jack Straw's ban on prisoners engaging in arts-related activities (Prison Service Instruction number 50 of 2008 (PDF)) which the tabloids have interpreted as 'prison parties':
Crispin Blunt was clearly wrong not to clear his policy through Downing Street. A sensitive policy announcement like this needed approval. Otherwise you get frontpages like today's Daily Mail and the fury of The Sun.
The power of The Sun. The Mail has been unhappy with Coalition prisons policy for weeks but the anger of The Sun seems to have caused Downing Street to act. This is all somewhat ironic given Blunt's speech yesterday in which he blamed "the slightest whiff of criticism from the popular press" for Jack Straw's original ban!
Blunt's policy shift was correct. I'm with Iain Dale in his defence of Blunt's policy and its freedom for prison governors to manage jails and rehabilitation. The Justice Department should not be micro-managing what goes on behind bars. If we want more effective rehabilitation of prisoners we need some innovation in approach.
Clarke remains a loose cannon. James Kirkup blogs that "Mr Blunt will be the focus for attention today, but Government folk know that in reality, he’s not much more than collateral damage in a bigger war being fought between his boss, Ken Clarke, and Andy Coulson." One government insider told me recently that "Clarke is out of control". Although the broad thrust of his prisons policy has Cameron's blessing there is frustration that he is being confrontational with the Mail, in particular.
The Coalition will pay a price for abandoning Michael Howard's prison policy. Although I support a rehabilitation revolution in prisons, the main purpose of prisons isn't rehabilitation, deterrence or punishment but incarceration. So long as repeat and dangerous offenders are behind bars they cannot offend. Simples. David Green of Civitas has all the numbers. Later in this parliament criminals are going to commit crimes when they should have been in prison. Cameron and Clegg will pay a political price for that.