Kenneth Clarke’s appointment as Home Secretary lasted just one year. His time as Justice Minister was little more than 2 years. I am no Tory, but I recognise a man with a brain.

His time in those two offices was brief, because no sooner had he got his feet under the table than he started stirring too much dust. He is the only minister in decades of Tory and Labour rule to speak seriously about penal reform. For a party that wants power and is not too fussy about how it holds on to it, penal reform is too liberal an issue; not one that can haul in the votes. That daily Tory fix, the Daily Mail, goes strongly for the bang’em up and chuck away the key line. Unfortunately, millions of ill-informed people go along with that.

Most people consider prison to be for punishment and find talk of rehabilitation to be “soft”.

The fact is that our prisons are a complete failure and a gigantic waste of money.

It costs more to keep a man in prison than to send a boy to Eton.

What a good idea! Require Eton to earn its charitable status by accepting, say, 100 teenage prisoners per year, as an experiment. The fees would be paid by the Ministry of Justice, at no greater cost to the tax-payer than sending them all to a secure unit.

These prisoners would find themselves in an environment totally different from the one that moulded them:  a humane and hygienic living space; any required medical care provided; education; an ordered routine; exercise; other inmates with aspiration aplenty. They would feel very uncomfortable in such a strange environment, nothing like their home territory and with nobody like their old mates; no drugs (I trust); no junk-food; no release on to the streets of Windsor All of that would be the punishment part of it.

The rehabilitation would be their complete removal from the environment that moulded them as apprentice criminals. There would be no question of release until they had a reading age of at least 12. (That may not sound very ambitious until you take account of the fact that the Sun has a reading age requirement of just 8). The Sun has the biggest readership of all British newspapers. Talk about dumb Britain! Release would also be dependent on having gained some qualifications at GCSE, A-level,  or GNVQ.

That Eton idea is fanciful, but you get my drift.

The lock’em up and chuck away the key brigade need to take account of the enormous cost to society of each prisoner, especially when you consider that 40 per cent of released prisoners re-offend within the first 12 months after release and 75 per cent re-offend within 9 years.

Our prisons are a complete failure apart from keeping convicted men off the streets temporarily, at grotesque cost to the public purse.

Our prison population is the biggest in Europe and prison conditions are among the worst in Europe. Treat men like animals and guess what …..

Being treated as human beings would be an unusual experience for many convicted men.

A report released by the National Audit Office on 6th February 2020 told the same sad story as countless similar reports over recent years.

40 per cent of inspected prisons were rated as poor or not sufficiently good for the safety of inmates and staff. Over 40 per cent of prisons need major repair or replacement. The current backlog of major repairs will cost £916 million to fix. Inspection reports have spoken of broken plumbing left for months, prisons infested with rats or cockroaches. Prisoner suicides were up 23 per cent in the past year.

The recent scandal of early release of dangerous prisoners has met with panic announcements of longer sentences, no parole, more prisons.  The Sun and the Daily Mail love this stuff.  But it is all baloney. More prisoners means more over-crowding, more violence, more stress on staff, less education, more drugs and less psychiatric treatment for those who need it. Locked up in their cells for 23 hours a day, because there are too few staff and too little money to supervise a better alternative regime, is a formula for the promotion of Islamist and extreme rightwing radicalisation.

Our prisons are schools of crime. They do the complete opposite of what is required.

Writing in 1872, Samuel Butler urged that those who commit crime should be sent to hospital and those who become ill by virtue of their life-style should go to prison.

Now that begins to think along the right lines.

Most women in our prisons are not a physical threat to the public. They tend to be convicted of theft or fraud. They are suffering from addictions or other psychological conditions, which are often the consequence of abuse. All too often, their imprisonment punishes their children far more than them.

There should be secure psychiatric treatment units for some and  secure lock-ups for the minority of women who have committed murder or GBH and still present a threat.  Apart from that, women’s prisons should be shut down.