I really do like the way Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, is approaching his new role.
He appears to have a far more hard line approach to criminal offending than his predecessor, Ken Clarke and actually seems to know what he is doing. Although it will take him time to sort it out, he has already identified the need to stop criminals being released from prison early unless their good behaviour warrants it. Many members of the public may be unaware that the previous Labour government created rules which entitled prisoners to have their sentence halved automatically, irrespective of their behaviour in prison or the type of crime they committed. This common sense rule change will provide prisoners with an incentive to behave in prison, leading to better chances for these individuals to be rehabilitated in the long-term. Perhaps his most controversial proposal though, is to allow private sector firms to bid to take over some probation services. This is something not warmly welcomed by the probation service and regarded by some experts as ‘ideological’. However, I think it is worth trying. That means 200,000 low and medium risk offenders will be monitored by private sector firms or charitable organisations. Payment will only be made on a results basis which provides a considerable incentive to prevent further re-offending. It is highly likely the large private sector firms already involved in the welfare to work programme will bid for these probation services and, despite bad press, some of these schemes are actually being quite successful. There are some risks to this proposal but there are sensible safeguards which ensure the probation service will still continue to supervise 50,000 high-risk offenders including those convicted of the most serious sexual and violent offences. Only time will tell if these proposals actually reduce the current high levels of offending but I have a feeling they have a good chance of working. The big test will be to see whether they can rehabilitate prolific repeat offenders such as David Knowles, from Ashton, who the Evening Post recently highlighted as now racking up an incredible 40 previous convictions consisting of 127 offences. All current forms of sentencing have failed to address his behaviour, so little is lost by trying this new approach. If Mr Grayling can then sort our erratic and inconsistent sentencing policy and ensure the right people go to prison for the right length of time, he may end up being the most successful Justice Secretary in history. That should mean less crime being committed, less people being sent to prison and that would be a really impressive achievement.
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