1st Edition

The Honest Politician’s Guide to Prisons and Probation

By Roy D. King, Lucy Willmott Copyright 2022
    274 Pages
    by Routledge

    274 Pages
    by Routledge

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    Through a comprehensive analysis of legislative and organisational changes and interviews with all the key players, The Honest Politician’s Guide to Prisons and Probation provides an authoritative account of the crisis which has gradually engulfed the prison and probation services since 1991. Setting out the nature and extent of the crisis, King and Willmott show how the Woolf agenda was overridden in a process of political churn, through explorations of the Conservative government until 1997, New Labour from 1997 to 2010 and the Coalition and Conservative governments since 2010. Uniquely, interviews with all surviving Home Secretaries and Justice Secretaries of the period include insightful and candid reflections upon their time in office, and how they saw the future. Views from both inside and outside the prisons and probation services are also explored, based on interviews with the Director Generals of the Prison Service and of the new National Probation Service, Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation and the four most recent Lord Chief Justices, including Lord Woolf himself. Concluding by drawing on this collective wisdom, King and Willmott set out what is needed for an effective and sustainable future. It is essential reading not just for those in Westminster, but also for practitioners in criminal justice, advocacy organisations, thinktanks and scholars and students in Criminology, Criminal Justice, British Politics and Public Policy.


    Plan of this book

    1. Researching the Crisis in Prisons and Probation

    2. The Conservative Government from 1990–1997

    3. The New Labour Years 1997 –2010

    4. The Coalition Government 2010 –2015

    5. The Conservative Government 2015 –2019

    6. Views from the Lord Chief Justices

    7. Conclusions: An Agenda for Action



    Roy D. King is Emeritus Professor, Wales, and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, UK.

    Lucy Willmott is Teaching and Research Associate at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, UK. 

    'This is an outstanding history and a genuinely compelling read. It's about the lost opportunity, in a time of relative affluence in public spending on prisons and probation, to provide a decent prison service and a more effective management of offenders. It's about the inconsistency and lack of strategy from Ministers - often from the same party - who changed too frequently and were generally disinterested in carrying through the initiatives of their predecessors. And it evidences an unwillingness of Number 10 to maintain any sort of strategic grip or direction. It's a product of meticulous research and painstaking interviews and fact checking. It's the best thing I've read on criminal justice in this period. I recommend it most warmly.' - Sir Martin James Narey DL, advisor to the British Government, and a former civil servant and charity executive

    'This is an impressively detailed (and depressing) insight into the impact of the ‘churn' of political leadership on criminal justice policy and practice. The authors have been amazingly successful in persuading the 'movers and shakers' of criminal justice policy in recent decades to speak candidly about what they did and didn’t do - it is particularly rare to see the senior judges speaking so frankly. The book is an eye-opener into the impact that the individual can have - thereby revealing many missed opportunities and false steps.' - Nicola Padfield, Professor of Criminal and Penal Justice, University of Cambridge

    'This excellent book should be read by all who care about what has happened to our prison and probation services over the last 30 years and should be a compulsory case study for anyone involved in public policy making. It provides a compelling analysis of what has gone wrong and calls for a non- partisan approach to put things right. This is long overdue and deserves a full and honest response from our politicians and policy makers.' - Michael Spurr, Former CEO of HMPPS

    'This outstanding book takes us behind the scenes in the theatre of criminal justice policy. A series of penetrating interviews with politicians, judges and public servants shows how a mixture of short-termism, amateurism, populism and indifference to evidence have damaged the prisons and the probation service. In half a century of involvement with criminal justice I have seen many changes which made little sense at the time. This book shows how and why they happened, and how things might be done better. Everyone who cares about the future of prisons and probation services should read it.' - Peter Raynor, PhD, FRSA, FAcS, Emeritus Research Professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Swansea University

    'The roll call of politicians, senior civil servants and judges who agreed to be interviewed for this work is extraordinary. Their candour, and the skill with which those accounts have been compared, provide a unique insight into a tumultuous 30 years in prison and probation affairs. If ignorance of the past dooms us to repeat it, then this book provides an antidote.' - Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust

    'An American tourist was part of a group being shown round Westminster Abbey. When they stopped in front of a plaque which read, "Here lies a politician and an honest man", the visitor observed laconically:

    "I didn't know you were allowed to bury two people in the same grave."

    The authors of this important book have convincingly explained their choice of title in their prologue; and the repetition by this reviewer of an old (and feeble) joke should not detract from the value of their overriding theme: access in their own words to the explanations provided by those politicians responsible for the creation and implementation of the policies adopted during the last 30 years for the development of the criminal justice system, laid alongside the equally revealing comments of those senior officials whom they authorised to deliver those policies during the same period.

    The drumbeat to those oral explanations is provided in Chapter 6: the near unanimity of view, from each of those occupying the position of Lord Chief Justice during the 30 year span, that policies selected for implementation by the politicians were doomed from the start; those tasked with their implementation were presented with an impossible task; and the inevitable conclusion that what was properly identified as a shambles in penal policy at the time of the Woolf report in 1991 has, over the succeeding 30 years, developed into an omni-shambles.

    The initial doubling of the prison population, coupled with the decimation of the funding necessary to support that explosion of incarcerated numbers, requires no elaboration. This important work throws a shaft of light on how we have managed to end up in this situation.

    With charm, and one suspects persistence, the authors have allowed politicians from either side of the political divide to expose themselves to a critical analysis of how they equip themselves to undertake the role (all admitted that they failed the elementary test of prior knowledge, or even an induction from a predecessor). Some have stood in a penitential white sheet; while the majority have moved on to other responsibilities, heedless of the wreckage strewn on the battlefield which they have left behind.

    The officials responsible for the application of these policies have watched the developing train crash with stupefied horror, as they failed to apply the brakes to a locomotive out of control.

    The authors provide a menu of their own suggestions for reform which those bold, brave and wise enough to introduce would do well to ponder. Perhaps the most important lesson to be learned is that identified by Lord Woolf in his lecture to the Prison Reform Trust, 25 years after the Strangeways riot: "Let’s take the politics out of prison."' - His Honour Judge John Samuels, QC