Straw clamps down on prison comedy classes
Justice Secretary accused of 'gross overreaction' against arts courses in jails after press reports spark stand-up row
Sunday 25 January 2009
Jack Straw has ordered a clampdown on activities designed to rehabilitate criminals, after he was embarrassed by revelations that some prisoners at high-security Whitemoor prison have been getting lessons in stand-up comedy .
Critics claim the move by the Secretary of State for Justice is "lunacy" and a "gross overreaction", threatening hundreds of rehabilitation programmes.
Now, the Prisons Service has warned governors to ensure all activities are "acceptable, purposeful and meet the public acceptability test". In a leaked memo, seen by The Independent on Sunday, governors have been told they must consider how activities "might be perceived by the public and victims" and avoid "indefensible criticism" that undermine public confidence in the Prison Service.
But experts say the clampdown has led to a curb on scores of programmes which use the theatre and the arts to rehabilitate prisoners.
In an outspoken attack, former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, described the move as "lunacy". "The Justice Secretary threw all the arts organisations out of Whitemoor prison and eventually produced this extraordinary order saying that only activities that would be approved of by the public would be allowed.
"Who's going to be the judge? It was a gross overreaction. What the voluntary sector does in prisons is work to help people rehabilitate. If you say you really are trying to protect the public, you'll damage that, if you don't allow rehabilitation."
The Comedy School – which has used stand-up classes to improve prisoners' social and literacy skills – was an immediate victim of the clampdown. It was pulled out of Whitemoor prison following tabloid newspaper outrage.
Comedy School director Keith Palmer said: "We were told the project needed to stop immediately because of a request from Jack Straw. I wouldn't mind if it was a new idea, but we've been doing this programme for 10 years now. I'm trying to understand what other areas of criminal justice The Sun gets to decide."
Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust said: "Draconian cuts and fear of tabloid headlines will reduce prisons to human warehouses and staff to mere turnkeys. Shocking self-harm and reconviction rates ought to be the public acceptability tests that keep the justice secretary awake at night."
Fine Cell Work, a charity which teaches sewing to prisoners and sells their work, fears the new approach might see their projects barred.
Executive director Katie Emck said: "Prison disorder is caused by inactivity and prisoners desperately need things to do. As for value for money, there are hundreds of charities, working in prisons for free, that are now under threat."
David Hanson, the Justice minister, said yesterday: "The types of courses and the manner in which they are delivered must be appropriate. What happens inside the prison gates has ramifications outside, on victims and their families, and on taxpayers."
- 1 I was a Woman Against Feminism too
- 2 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
- 3 The Tory donor whose firm is one of Britain’s biggest tax avoiders - with HMRC's blessing
- 4 John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
- 5 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
Peaches Geldof cause of death: Socialite had taken fatal dose of heroin after years of addiction, inquest concludes
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned
Peaches Geldof: Her final day – and her fatal decision
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israel may have committed war crimes, says UN human rights chief
John Barrowman praised for Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gay kiss
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: victims’ bodies bundled in black bags and loaded onto trains
£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...
£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...
£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...
£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...