That Theresa May gave Brexit campaigner, and long-shot leadership rival Michael Gove the boot in her recent cabinet reshuffle was hardly surprising. But her decision to hand over the justice-secretary job to ex-environment secretary Liz Truss has sparked a mini rebellion in the Department of Justice.
Justice minister Lord Faulks resigned from his position due to Truss’s lack of legal experience. Meanwhile, Anna Soubry rejected May’s offer to take over Faulks’ job, saying her 15 years as a criminal barrister made serving under Truss ‘an insult’. For anyone concerned about prison reform, Gove’s departure really is a tragedy.
When former PM David Cameron gave a speech on prisons in February, he was the first prime minister exclusively to address the issue in over 20 years. He spoke of the need for an upheaval in how we run our prisons, and claimed his government would enact ‘the biggest shake-up of prisons since the Victorian era’. This was the cause which, as justice secretary, Gove had made his own.
After decades of neglect, prison reform was finally in sight. Before Gove was the harsh and ineffectual Chris Grayling, who set about introducing a series of idiotic measures, including a ban on books for prisoners – which only boosted prison illiteracy rates – and debt-inducing court charges for defendants. Gove scrapped the book ban, the charges and loosened the draconian restrictions on temporary release for prisoners to work in the local community.
Reform was desperately needed; the system clearly wasn’t working. The crime rate has been decreasing for years, especially violent and serious crimes, and yet imprisonment has been on the rise. This is because, in recent decades, justice secretary after justice secretary has tried to pose as tough on crime by raising the prison population. Between 1992 and 2008, Britain’s prison population rose from below 50,000 to over 90,000.