John Major has denounced the Tories’ ‘overzealousness’ in locking up criminals – arguing that many short sentences are ‘unnecessary’.
The former prime minister said pressure to be seen as tough on crime risked generating ‘reckless politics’, insisting that non-custodial measures would be more effective and fair.
He also urged the new justice secretary to drop Dominic Raab’s proposals to give ministers more power to block parole board decisions, saying the system should not be politicised.
Sir John was Prime Minister when his Home Secretary Michael Howard told the 1993 Conservative Party conference that ‘prison works’.
However, since Brexit he has become a regular critic of the Tories – and in particular Boris Johnson.
John Major has denounced the Tories’ ‘overzealousness’ to lock up criminals – arguing that many short sentences are ‘unnecessary’
The intervention is Sir John’s first on prisons and sentencing since his time as Prime Minister – he called for a greater emphasis on rehabilitation.
Last night, in a speech to the Prison Reform Trust in the Old Bailey, he said: ‘Tough sentences for violent crimes are needed, and the instinct to protect the public is commendable ‒ but we must beware of overzealousness to be tough on crime don’t lead us to reckless politics.
In the year to June 2022, 43,000 people were sentenced to prison, less than two in five of whom had committed a violent offence.
“The UK has the highest rate of imprisonment in Western Europe – and yet I find it hard to believe that we Brits are single criminals,” he said.
“Many prisoners – far too many, I believe – are given short sentences when other sentences would be preferable. In some cases, medical care and treatment is needed rather than jail.
“To be frank, I suspect that many short sentences are unnecessary and that a non-custodial sentence would be more effective and, perhaps, fairer.”
The former prime minister also warned of “intolerable” conditions in some prisons, where two to three inmates are sometimes held in a Victorian-built single cell.
“Having detainees held in worse conditions than in Victorian times is a political indictment that is hard to ignore,” he said.
Despite anger over high profile cases, Sir John has defended the ability of the Parole Board to make decisions.
He pointed to the low recidivism rate – one in 200 inmates – within three years of release.
“That would suggest the parole board is not a bunch of gullible wimps,” he said.
Plans put forward by Mr Raab – who resigned from cabinet last month – to increase ministerial powers to veto board decisions could lead to a ‘slippery slope’, Sir John told the audience .
“I understand that the former Justice Secretary has sought the power to veto decisions made by what would be the Independent Parole Board, to release prisoners convicted of serious crimes,” he said. declared.
“The problem with this is that I don’t see how (or why) the Justice Secretary could come to a fairer decision than the Parole Board.
Sir John has urged the new Justice Secretary to drop Dominic Raab’s (pictured) proposals to give ministers more power to block parole board decisions, saying the system should not be politicized
“Any government minister – regardless of ability or good intentions – would be much more vulnerable to public campaigning and, under pressure, to take a tougher decision to appease them.
“I don’t think a politician should have that power, and I hope the new Justice Secretary will reconsider or – if he doesn’t – Parliament will deny it.”
A Department of Justice spokesman said: “As the public would rightly expect, we are pursuing important reforms to strengthen the parole system and transform the prison environment to keep dangerous offenders behind. bars and reduce crime.”
“We’ve made great strides in getting offenders away from crime by getting them off drugs and back to work, and we’re investing £550m to further reduce recidivism.”
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