Clarke prison pledge 'inspired by Churchill'

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's pledge to stop sending thousands of criminals to prison, which so angered Tory right-wingers last month, was inspired by Winston Churchill, the Justice minister Crispin Blunt will say today. He will tell an audience in London that Mr Clarke's claim that prison doesn't work was based on the war-time prime minister's penal reform policy. Many will interpret Mr Blunt's comments as a direct attack on the former Tory home secretary Michael Howard, who criticised Mr Clarke by repeating his famous political catchphrase "prison works".

Mr Blunt will say that when Churchill proposed his reforms in 1910 he was also accused of being "soft" on crime by people who did not try to understand what was actually being proposed. He will say: "Some things don't change. Serious offenders who commit serious crimes are still going to go to prison. What the Justice Secretary called for was a more sensible way of dealing with offenders." Mr Blunt adds: "The quality that shines through Churchill's speech is his humanity towards the offender. And we should not blind ourselves to the fact that, in some ways, we have made pitifully little progress since 1910. Today too many offenders need a great deal of support because of the hand played to them by circumstance."

Speaking at the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro) at the Nacro West Norwood Centre in London, Mr Blunt said many prisoners had suffered abuse. "We know that around half of women in prison have experienced domestic violence, and up to a third have been victims of sexual abuse," he added.

"Many fail to have a support network of friends and family. Many have failed in the education system, abused drugs and alcohol or ended up homeless. Nearly half of sentenced offenders have emotional wellbeing issues including mental illness."

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