The Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, has an important article in the Guardian today, in which he blames the riots that swept English cities this summer on this country's "social deficit" between mainstream society and a "feral underclass".
Some people are dismayed by the language used. Be that as it may, dismay all you wish but I would wager that more people are horrified by the criminal acts in Tottenham, Croydon and elsewhere than some choice words of a popular old hand known for plain speaking. Actions speak louder than words.
For what it is worth, "feral" derives from the Latin ferus meaning "wild". In turn, "wild" means "uncontrolled or unrestrained, especially in pursuit of pleasure". And Mr Clarke is not playing to any 'nasty party' gallery because he is writing in the Guardian, whose readers have not voted Tory since the 1950s; if it had passed you by, the Tory press and the Justice Secretary do not see eye to eye in many things beyond a penchant for beer and cricket.
More importantly, Ken Clarke writes that the underlying nature of the riots and the rioters must be a prompt for "radical reform". Our prisons are places for punishment, of course, but there must be a heightened emphasis on rehabilitation.
Punishment alone is not enough... Locking people up without reducing the risk of them committing new crimes against new victims the minute they get out does not make for intelligent sentencing.
It's not yet been widely recognised, but the hardcore of the rioters were, in fact, known criminals. Close to three-quarters of those aged 18 or over charged with riot offences already had a prior conviction. That is the legacy of a broken penal system - one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful. In my view, the riots can be seen in part as an outburst of outrageous behaviour by the criminal classes - individuals and families familiar with the justice system who haven't been changed by their past punishments.
I am introducing radical changes to focus our penal system relentlessly on proper, robust punishment and the reduction of reoffending. This means making our jails places of productive hard work, addressing the scandal of drugs being readily available in many of our prisons and toughening community sentences so that they command public respect. And underpinning it all, the most radical step of all: paying those who rehabilitate offenders, including the private and voluntary sectors, by the results they achieve, not (as too often in the past) for processes and box-ticking.
I have noticed some people lazily describing the Justice Secretary's words as lacking depth and an understanding of underlying problems. Evidently, they read the sexy headline (probably chosen by the Guardian) about "feral rioters" and bypassed the article itself.
However, reform can't stop at our penal system alone. The general recipe for a productive member of society is not secret. It has not changed since I was inner cities minister 25 years ago. It's about having a job, a strong family, a decent education and, beneath it all, an attitude that shares in the values of mainstream society.
Just in case the casual reader thought this was mere rhetoric, replete with the ethos of long-held experience, are coalition government policies such as deficit reduction, welfare reform, work programmes and liberalising our schools.
Rehabilitation must be the watchword of this Government's penal reforms. After this summer's riots that fact is staring us in the face more than ever.
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