THE CLANG OF THE PRISON GATE

As candidates for the top job in 2020 jostle for pole position, those who fancy a flutter would be unwise to write off Michael Gove.  He is known as ‘Oiky’ by Private Eye, but that aside, he is very much the dark horse in the race and should not be dismissed lightly.

He had a good run at the Department of Education until Cameron, ever the fair weather friend, dumped him in favour of somebody more emollient, I can’t remember who, but presumably transgender and black to cover as many bases as possible.

After the General Election, Oiky came back as the Justice Secretary, something about which he knew absolutely nothing, and an ignorance he shares with a number of judges, but he’s taken to it like a duck to water.  His latest initiative to reduce the prison population is to cut substantially the terms of imprisonment which prisoners would otherwise have to serve, thus tackling prison overcrowding at a stroke.  Whether his initiative gets past Middle England and sees the light of day, only time will tell, but he has my support.

Those of you old enough to know better will cast your minds back to 1965 when capital punishment was finally abolished, much to the disgust of the ‘Hang ’em High’ Brigade.  I mean, if you hang ’em high, they won’t do it again, and what does it matter if the occasional innocent man is hanged if it’s all for the greater good.  But with the abolition of capital punishment, imprisonment became the ultimate deterrent and the ultimate punishment, but was never used as such.  Deterrence never works, as it assumes that those contemplating committing a crime consider the consequences, which they don’t. That leaves punishment.  It is depressing but true that sentences of imprisonment are increasing significantly in both length and severity because successive Home Secretaries see this as a vote winner.  How depressing to play politics with people’s lives!  It’s a fact, acknowledged by Gove, that the real punishment of imprisonment is in the first two weeks, the so-called ‘clang of the prison gate’, when a condemned man’s humanity is stripped bare, when he is prodded and pushed and abused by the system which is at breaking point.  That’s the real deterrent, and any sentence beyond the short, sharp shock is an expensive waste of time.

Finally, the use of imprisonment as a sentencing tool also needs to be examined.  Three quarters of all serving prisoners are serving a sentence of two years or less, so why are they there in the first place?  Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to devise a more appropriate punishment within the community.