If we really believe prison works, we should give people a second chance

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At last, after all these years, the truth has emerged. Michael Howard doesn't believe that "prison works" after all. As Home Secretary under Mrs Thatcher, he made the mantra into an article of faith. Now, even though his old friend has done his time, the Conservative leader is reported to have taken seconds to reject Jonathan Aitken's return to politics.

Mr Howard has overruled 200 party activists in South Thanet, who wish to see their old MP back on the hustings, and who handed into Conservative Central office a petition to that effect. One figure in the campaign to reinstate Mr Aitken explained: "Round here, you've been forgiven and rehabilitated. You've paid your debt to society." Which is absolutely the right and civilised attitude.

Mr Aitken served 18 months for perjury, and has, in the years since his release, proved himself to be an active and valuable citizen who understands and regrets his crime. He is a good example of how prison ought to work and it is a pity that Mr Howard does not have the moral courage to back him in his final push for perfect rehabilitation.

Instead, Mr Howard's actions suggest he has little faith in the ability of prison to punish and to rehabilitate. He appears to believe that a convicted man should be punished forever, long after his crime has been atoned for.

But even Mr Howard has some way to go when compared to Mr Blunkett. The Home Secretary plays to the baying mob so assiduously that he virtually places a noose in their hands. This is sickeningly clear in the case of Maxine Carr.

Mr Aitken's 18 months were for perjuring himself before a jury. Ms Carr has already served longer for something less serious - lying to the police in early interviews before later correcting her story. Yet Mr Blunkett's, intervention, after the Soham trial, changed the procedure whereby prisoners applied to be released under the home detention curfew - just to keep her in for a few weeks longer.

Is this because he believes that prison works? No. As Mr Blunkett knows well, it is right and proper to release this model prisoner with a tag, just as the governor of Holloway prison, Ed Willetts, has recommended. But he doesn't want to be associated with such a move. Instead, he wants to distance himself from a system that found Ms Carr to be a victim rather than a criminal, and has helped her immensely during her incarceration.

One of the ways in which prison officers manage to get on with their job is by refusing to speculate on the guilt, innocence or crimes of those they guard. In Ms Carr's case, this precaution has been jettisoned. The warders who have looked after Ms Carr, are certain her persistent denials of Ian Huntley's guilt were genuine, and she is guilty only of being in thrall to a man so abusive that his name will go down in history. Away from him, her confidence and her health have improved. Her progress in prison has been a rehabilitative triumph. Yet all that is about to be squandered.

The prosecution barrister at the trial said Ms Carr was "intelligent". Holloway staff reckon she is as "daft as a brush". So naive is Ms Carr, she refuses to believe she will be open to death threats when she gets out. Further, because she is a vulnerable prisoner, she is shown none of the hate-mail sent, only letters of support. She is, therefore, undaunted by the fact her request for protection and a new ID has been turned down.

The poor creature has no idea how tough it is going to be on the outside, which is probably why she has made the decision that the public finds so misguided. But the Home Secretary does. That is why his instruction to a team of officials to manage Ms Carr's release with "the least possible cost to the taxpayer" is so callous.

Those who are most furious about Ms Carr's release are the very people who will ensure her sentence doesn't really begin until she comes out of jail. Mr Blunkett is endorsing that awful attitude. So is Mr Howard.

Caught in the wrong lane on a road to nowhere

I've always fancied being a war correspondent, but sadly lack the actual courage. So I've appointed myself as war-on-motorists correspondent, who will file regular dispatches from this contentious domestic front.

On Thursday morning, motorists were speciously being cast as victims, as they are so often, with the Daily Mail suggesting that it was some sort of outrage that British motorists should be "banned for speeding in France". The argument appeared to be that foreign nationals ought to be able to commit traffic offences in foreign climes with impunity.

Later that day, though, Kamel Kadri, the hit-and-run killer of nine-year-old Callum Oakford, was sentenced. He had been driving without a licence, tax, insurance, or MoT. He speeded into Callum, then abandoned him, but his driving offences entitled the judge to sentence him to only eight months.

To me, it seems obscene that all these offences garnered only eight months. It also seems obscene that Kadri could not be charged with dangerous driving because there was "no evidence". I contend that driving an unroadworthy car without a licence is evidence enough.

The Mail contended that the real problem was that Kadri was an illegal immigrant. Why can't they see that poor Callum would still be dead if Kadri's immigration status had been different, and that the day before they had been more or less insisting that drivers should be allowed to speed without fear of lasting punishment when abroad?

¿ On a lighter note, those who believe there is a war on motorists may like to reflect on a sinister coincidence. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is well-known to be an enemy of motorists (hence, it is suggested, the congestion charge).

He is also known to be an enemy of pigeons. He banned seed-sellers from Trafalgar Square within seconds of being elected. Now it transpires that pigeons follow motorways on long journeys. Can Mr Livingstone be picking on these creatures because they are road users? I fear it all makes sense.

All stitched up

Although, of course, she was revelling in the attention, Ms Katie Price still affected to complain about being chosen again this week to do an I'm A Celebrity Bushtucker trial. "How come," she asked, "it's always me who's getting stitched up?" From living rooms across the nation came the riposte. "Because, darling, it's always you who's getting cut open."