A major speech by The Rt Hon David Gauke MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Monday 18th February 2019, 09:00
- 10:30

Since becoming Secretary of State, Rt Hon David Gauke has set out a wide-ranging reform agenda for prisons. Earlier in 2018, he announced improvements in the prison estate, measures to tackle drug use and incentives for rehabilitation.

The independent think tank Reform hosted a major speech, delivered by Rt Hon David Gauke MP, on Monday 18 February at 09.00 for 09.30 – 10.30. 

On 18th February 2019, Reform hosted the Rt Hon David Gauke MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, who gave a speech outlining his vision for the future of criminal justice. The speech was followed by a short Q&A with an audience of journalists and senior figures from the policy community.

He discussed (I) moving away from short-term prison sentences, (II) making prisons places of rehabilitation, and (III) how ‘technology and radical thinking’ can be used to develop new kinds of non-custodial punishments in the future. Overall, he argued for a new approach to how we punish offenders: not with ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ justice, but with ‘smart’ justice.

The case for abolishing short sentences

The Justice Secretary began by making the case against short prison sentences. The incarceration rate in England and Wales is amongst the highest in Europe, and sentences have been getting longer. Although tougher sentences are appropriate for sexual and violent offences, the Justice Secretary noted that most offenders serving sentences of fewer than six months are convicted of shoplifting.

It was argued that being sent to prison is very disruptive for offenders who already live chaotic lives, as being imprisoned can put strain on family ties and result in the loss of employment, accommodation, and access to support services. This can make it far harder to reintegrate an offender back into society and help them turn away from crime. In addition, inducting an offender into prison is very costly and resource-intensive, and short sentences offer little time to do meaningful work with them.

The case for community sentences?

The Justice Secretary advocated increasing the use of ‘robust’ community sentences. These, it was said, were more effective at reducing reoffending, but were not a ‘soft’ option. The roll-out of new GPS tagging will allow offenders’ movements to be restricted and monitored. Equally, community orders could be used to support offenders with complex needs. A new Treatment Requirement Programme has been developed by the Ministry of Justice in partnership with NHS England, Public Health England, and the Department for Health and Social Care, to support offenders with substance and alcohol addictions as part of a community order.

Anticipating that a move towards community orders would be seen as ‘soft’ justice, the Justice Secretary said, ‘I believe the choice – and the debate – isn’t one of soft justice or hard justice. It’s a choice between effective justice or ineffective justice.’

Making prisons places for rehabilitation

Nonetheless, the Justice Secretary said that for many offenders a custodial sentence is appropriate. Prisons must be able to help these offenders to turn away from crime. Prisons must, at minimum, be ‘humane, safe and secure’. Prisoners need to feel that that there is hope for the future, and that a life of crime is not their only option. It was argued that this would require the right incentives and privileges in custody, but also that prisoners maintain ‘a link to the outside world’. Greater use of Release on Temporary License, which allows prisoners to go out into the community for work or community payback, helps to reintegrate offenders and has been shown to reduce reoffending.

The future of punishment

The Justice Secretary finished by considering how punishment could evolve in the future. Historically, prison has been seen as the ‘default’ mode of punishment. In the future, it is envisaged that technology could allow for new sanctions to be developed as part of a community order, creating punishments that ‘properly hit the criminal in a more tailored and targeted way outside of prison.’ For example, fraudsters who serve a custodial sentence may have access to the profits of their criminal activity when they are released. In the future, measures could be taken to monitor and control their finances to affect a ‘shift in [their] standard of living.’

If you would like to watch David Gauke deliver the speech, please watch the live stream below: