Cool Clarke sends Sun frothy at mouth

Andrew Neilson attacks the tabloid reporting of crime and punishment and provides an evidence based argument for sentencing reform.

Prison Cell

Andrew Neilson is assistant director and head of public affairs and policy at the Howard League for Penal Reform

There is nothing the tabloid newspapers hate more than a politician who blithely confesses that he doesn’t read them. The Justice secretary Ken Clarke is one of this rare breed.

His insouciance merely makes the papers more desperate to insult him. The Daily Mail, for example, has spent months campaigning for Clarke to be ousted, inventing ever more bizarre claims/bouts-of-wishful-thinking, such as the idea back in February that an imminent reshuffle would see Clarke forced to do a jobshare with Michael Howard, of all people. The Sun too, often gets frothy at the mouth in its regular editorial attacks on Clarke.

The decisions which can have profound effects on people’s lives – both victims and those who are charged with an offence – should be made coolly, rationally, and with the full facts of the case at the sentencer’s disposal. As for the sentence itself, it should be handed down because it is going to be the most effective intervention, the one that is most likely to see an individual desist from offending.

The Sun’s latest attack on Clarke, came after it reported a four year old girl was injured when a teenager through a brick into a van window. In an editorial, The Sun tell us that this incident is the “price Britain is paying for craven surrender to the mob”. It then claims that:

“Ken Clarke is the best mate yobs ever had.  He doesn’t believe they should go to jail.”

There is no evidence that Ken Clarke believes that someone who injures a four year old girl should not go to jail. It would be wrong to comment in detail on this incident without full possession of the facts, but while the Ministry of Justice sentencing green paper makes many proposals for reform it is far from obvious that these proposals would prevent a custodial sentence if this case goes to trial. Indeed, it is worth pointing out that although The Sun may work itself into a frenzy, the paper’s own story acknowledges that a 17 year old has now been remanded into custody charged with attempted wounding with intent.

It is quite possible, in fact, that it is The Sun which is the best mate yobs ever had, at least if the ‘yobs’ want to stay ‘yobs’. As the Howard League regularly points out, the re-offending rate for under 18s in custody is a staggering 75 per cent. For at least twice the price (and in the case of privately run child jails, five or six times the price) of a year at Eton College, sending a child into custody will see only one in four go on to desist from offending.

On being released, these young people are trapped in the cycle of crime, or the revolving door between custody and the community. Indeed, the Howard League is shortly due to publish research into short prison sentences which shows that spells in custody can reduce the ability of individuals to take responsibility and make a return to prison ‘inevitable’. Also many prisoners state a preference for a short prison sentence over a community intervention because a few weeks in prison is preferable to the demands of a sentence which is actually designed to tackle the underlying causes of offending behaviour.

I’m sure The Sun would never let these facts get in the way of a good story, however. Not unlike the cycle of offending, the tabloid newspapers are engaged in an ever-worsening cycle of misrepresentation and spin about Ken Clarke and his supposed intentions. The more he ignores them, the worse the reporting gets. For the sake of good policy, if not good journalism, here’s hoping he continues to ignore them.

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16 Responses to “Cool Clarke sends Sun frothy at mouth”

  1. The Howard League

    Our assistant director @neilsonandrew on Ken Clarke and the tabloids

  2. CJA

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cool Clarke sends Sun frothy at mouth


    RT @TheHowardLeague: Our assistant director @neilsonandrew on Ken Clarke and the tabloids

  4. AltGovUK

    RT @leftfootfwd: Cool Clarke sends Sun frothy at mouth: writes @neilsonandrew

  5. Platform 10

    V good article on @leftfootfwd about Ken Clarke's focus on EFFECTIVE justice I agree

  6. Prateek Buch

    excellent piece – there has been far too little evidence basis to previous administrations’ policy on prisons, Clarke’s liberal, dispassionate stance is a breath of fresh air

  7. Ed's Talking Balls

    A politician ignores a section of the press which, despite your condescension, broadly reflects popular opinion, and you praise him for it?

    Personally, I am dismayed that all too often politicians are utterly out of touch with the people over whom they have power.

    Further, if the Conservatives always had this strategy in mind, why were they not honest enough to put that to the electorate? I would be intrigued to see how a party which advocates locking up fewer criminals would fare in an election.

  8. Anon E Mouse

    Bring back Jack Straw as Home Secretary. The government is wrong on this and Labour is right.

    Preteek Buch in Comment 1 is wrong – prison does work – a rapist cannot rape a woman if he is in jail.

    Elsewhere on this fine blog I posted these stats regarding the early release scheme. Of those prisoners released early…

    16,334 of these offenders were serving sentences for violence against the person.
    1,234 offenders were reported for alleged re-offending while on early release.
    1,624 alleged offences were committed by offenders on early release.
    125 offenders recalled for alleged re-offending or breaching the terms of their early release are still at large.

    That means 1634 crimes were committed (at least) that wouldn’t have been committed had those criminals still been in prison.

    That’s because prison works and everybody knows it. Like Ed’s Talking Balls above, I wonder how well the Tories would have done had the public been aware of this stupid stance on incarceration…

  9. Rebecca Chapman

    Oh PLEASE Anon E Mouse and Ed’s Talking Balls!

    How exactly can The Sun “broadly reflect popular opinion” when a) it only ever spouts a load of punitive trash which at best reflects the most ignorant in our society and b) there is no such as ‘public opinion’ in the singular.

    Think about what you’re saying! If prison really worked (AT PREVENTING MORE CRIME) then those released offenders wouldn’t have committed more crime, would they? Obviously it incapacitates, but if the price paid for that is more crime by more desperate people, then it’s a pointless waste of a massive amount of money which would be better spent tackling inequality, social deprivation and criminogenic needs (Sorry, big academic word there).
    Really wish there were more people with the brains to read research and understand the facts about this issue….certainly won’t find them reading a trash-rag like The Sun!!

  10. Commenter

    If the point of prison is a form of preventative detention, then surely it would be far, far cheaper to use electronic tagging?

  11. Dave

    Minor niggle- 4th paragraph, should be “threw” rather than “through.”

  12. Mr. Sensible

    I think there’s a debate to be had on sentencing, but unfortunately I think Mr Clark’s stance is motivated by 1 thing; cost cutting.

  13. Daniel Pitt

    Cool Clarke sends Sun frothy at mouth: #TheScum #Murdochracy

  14. Chris Wallace

    RT @leftfootfwd: Why Clarke should ignore the Sun and not mindlessly lock up ever increasing numbers of people –

  15. Daniel Pitt

    Cool Ken Clarke sends The Scum frothing at the mouth #Murdochracy #FAIL

  16. Armando Wilkinson

    Tabloid reporting on crime only helps spin a viscious cycle | Left …

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