The reaction of Conservative delegates towards Michael Gove – one of the greatest Tory radicals of modern times – during his party conference speech was one of mesmerisation. We are the party of economic competence, but as he showed, we can also be the champions of social justice.
We need to drastically cut the cost of crime and reduce reoffending. The UK has the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe with a near-record level of 86,145 people behind bars. In addition, our prison system costs taxpayers about £2 billion a year. Since taking office in May, Mr Gove has been determined to turn these figures around.
One former prisoner spoke inspirationally about their transformative rehabilitation experiences during the conference session on justice. We need this across the system so that people can be brought effectively back into society after life in prison. A great example on the Panorama programme about ‘Tough Justice in Britain: Texas Style' was changing from a life of "gang culture" to one of "gardening and god". Others included female inmates being taught how to love and care for dogs. This consisted of them teaching the dogs skills which gave the ladies a sense purpose, responsibility and civic duty, without which they would have previously engaged in a life of crime.
We need to tilt the focus from ‘punishment’ to ‘rehabilitation’. Half of prisoners reoffend, so the current system is clearly broken. We need to activate fresh thinking towards prisons existing to provide purposeful and constructive activity that solves problems, instead of just providing punishment. Don’t get me wrong, perpetrators should be rightfully punished for their crimes against society. But we need to reach the root of the crime and resolve it.
Mr Gove rightly argued that “every life is precious”. This new approach isn’t being soft on crime. In fact, this is about us tackling our failed system head on by empowering convicts, who would have otherwise constantly reoffended, to become builders of a better future.
If we want to succeed in taking the centre ground of British politics, then we must press ahead with Mr Gove’s vision for reforming our broken justice system. It will take big political guts to change from a system where we see prison as a first resort to one where we only incarcerate when necessary. I have every confidence that the Justice Secretary – as the man who previously transformed our education system for the better – is the right politician to take us through the second great Gove revolution.
Joe Porter, Youth Councillor and Chairman of Staffordshire Moorlands Conservative Future
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