It’s not being soft, it’s being sensible

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MP John Hayes writes for

Regular readers of this column will by now be aware of my enthusiasm for memorable TV situation comedies of the past.

One of the greatest was the prison-based ‘Porridge’ starring the much missed Ronnie Barker as ‘old lag’, Norman Fletcher.

Not so well remembered is the follow-up series ‘Going Straight’ which depicted the challenges Fletcher faced readjusting to life on the outside and resisting the pressure to return to crime.

In the real world, though the number of crimes committed continues to fall here in South Lincolnshire and elsewhere, offending has become a way of life for too many and reoffending rates have been too high for too long.

The cost to the taxpayer of habitual criminals is estimated to be as much as £10 billion each year, but the social costs are higher still.

In 1862 John Ruskin said “Let us reform our schools, and we shall find little reform needed in our prisons”.

Then education (or lack of it) helped to explain why some fell to deviance and criminality. The same is true today; two-thirds of prisoners have literacy skills below that expected of 11 year-olds and 70 per cent of women in prison have no qualifications at all.

By giving offenders the chance of a fresh start through education and training we make their return to crime less likely – good for them and good for all of us too.

As the minister responsible I developed a plan to reform prison education so that convicts get demanding and productive training and meaningful work while serving their sentences.

The Government is also doing more once prisoners are released. When someone leaves jail they should be met at the gate, have a mentor in place, know where they are going to live and be directed to training, drug treatment and jobs.

None of this is being soft, it’s being sensible. There is a good moral case for punishment and criminal justice should be retributive , but prison must also offer a chance for offenders to turn their lives around. More people going straight means less ‘porridge’, fewer victims and safer communities.