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Extend and defend

The Prisoners Advice Service is turning 20 at a time when penal reform is back on the front pages. Matthew Evans reminds the government of why the long struggle to forge prison rights must not get lost in the shake up

26 April 2011

There is no doubt prisons are poised for change. But the current climate of debate is strange one. On the one hand you have the justice secretary Ken Clarke calling for the beginnings of reform. On the other, you have the prime minister boasting that votes for prisoners makes him ‘sick’. Irrespective of one’s views about the need for voting rights, or indeed the desire of prisoners themselves to have them, this climate should spark a debate about what the nature and purpose of imprisonment is.

Clarke has at least made some public noise towards debating what the purpose of prison should be. But the overt failure of senior ministers to stand up in support of Clarke’s pronouncements on reducing the prison population speaks volumes about whether this government can differentiate itself from Labour by showing real political leadership and the guts to tackle this issue in the face of public and media vitriol.

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