Clarke's break with Tory prison policy provokes anger from right

Kenneth Clarke's pledge to break with the Conservatives' traditional "prison works" philosophy and bring in more community sentences has provoked anger from the right of his party and a warning from criminal justice campaigners that his words must be matched by firm proposals.

In a radical speech on penal reform yesterday, the Justice Secretary set out a new approach which he said would halt the record numbers of criminals being sent to prison in England and Wales.

He said he wanted to introduce a more open sentencing policy and to introduce a pay-by-results system for rewarding successful rehabilitation schemes in the community.

But there was little detail in his speech and any specific policy would have to wait for the end of a criminal justice review.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Lack of money and the wreckage of a crisis-driven policy have come together to concentrate minds. Faced with an economically and socially unsustainable prison population, a sentencing review will allow the Justice Secretary and colleagues to adopt a moderate, informed approach to reform of the justice system."

Dominic Williamson of the Revolving Doors Agency, which works with prisons and the police to reduce reoffending, said that Mr Clarke would need support from across government if he was to achieve his goals.

Owen Sharp, deputy chief executive of Victim Support, said: "Steps to reduce reoffending are welcome. Victims want to see criminals stop committing crime and be rehabilitated. We know that short prison sentences are sometimes not the best way to achieve this and our research shows that victims of non-violent crime are receptive to community and other punishments if they work."

Mr Clarke's speech was followed by a damning report into one of Britain's oldest prisons, Dartmoor in Devon. Dame Anne Owers, Chief Inspector of Prisons, says in her report that the Category C prison has a poor record on education and vocational training. She says prison officers use homophobic language and a third of prisoners say they feel unsafe inside the jail.

Tory backbenchers reacted angrily to Mr Clarke's comments. Speaking in the Commons, Philip Davies warned that the Justice Secretary was out of step with ordinary people who had voted for the Tories.

"Lots of Conservative supporters, whether they be in Parliament or voters, will feel very disappointed by this announcement," he said.

Michael Howard, the Conservative former home secretary, told BBC Radio 4 that he remained unconvinced by the speech: "The prison population has gone up and crime has continued to fall. Short-term offenders are sent to prison because that's what the judge or magistrate thought was appropriate. This is something that the courts take a great deal of care over."

The shadow Justice Secretary Jack Straw accused Mr Clarke of a return to the "hand-wringing" approach to law and order of Mr Howard's Conservative predecessors as home secretary – including Mr Clarke himself. "He [Mr Howard] deserves credit for turning the tide, as does the Opposition leader at that time, Tony Blair, who encapsulated the need for a balanced policy with his call to be 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'," he wrote in the Daily Mail.

"Now, though, in the crazy world of coalition Government, Kenneth Clarke shows he has learnt nothing about fighting crime in the time since he was in charge of prisons 17 years ago."

But David Cameron defended his Justice Secretary. The Prime Minister said the coalition Government had been forced to take radical action to deal with the "complete mess" that Labour had made of the the criminal justice system. Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, he denied that the Government had abandoned Mr Howard's "prison works" philosophy. "I believe that prison can work, it is just not working properly at the moment. If ever there was a part of our public services that needed radical reform to make sure prison does work, that's it," he said.

Mr Clarke, who is carrying out a review of sentencing policy, described the current 85,000 prison population in England and Wales as "astonishing" and questioned whether it delivered value for money for taxpayers.

Keeping a prisoner in jail costs an average £38,000 a year – more than sending a boy to Eton – but often did no more than produce "tougher criminals" and introduce petty offenders to hardened felons, he said.

"There are some nasty people who commit nasty offences. They must be punished, and communities protected. My first priority is the safety of the British public," he said. "But just banging up more and more people for longer without actively seeking to change them is what you would expect of Victorian England."

Proposed reforms

* More transparent sentencing policy

* Paying criminal justice groups by results to reduce reoffending. They would have clear financial incentives to keep offenders away from crime

* A criminal justice review which would recommend specific policies

* Building new prisons to replace old ones

* Means testing for defendants who require legal aid to pay for legal representation

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice