21 Jun 2011

Does Coalition sentencing policy add up?

So how big is the black hole in the Ministry of Justice budget now? I’m not sure anyone really knows. Maybe Ken Clarke and the PM can enlighten us when they speak later? Maybe they can tell us the projected prison population post the re-think? Especially as there seem to be other wider changes under consideration with implications for prison numbers like a review of time off for good behaviour for serious offenders. 

One fascinating insight as well into how the spending round operates sometimes. When the MOJ originally put in its mighty projected savings to shave 23 per cent off its budget over four years it included £130m savings next to the 50 per cent early remission proposal.

Apparently, when the MOJ was sent back to look at its sums as part of the re-think it realised it had over-estimated the savings by around £30m to £40m. Think of that margin of error in other projected savings and you could imagine Treasury eyes popping out. I wonder how many other projected paper savings across departments would vaporise under closer scrutiny.

What does all this mean for David Cameron’s hug a hoody image? Well, I think the hoody just got returned to the wardrobe in favour of some riot gear. The Tories have been alarmed by their polling on law and order and David Cameron doesn’t want to get the wrong side of the voters. One recent poll by Lord Ashcroft suggested 3 per cent of the public think that sentencing is too harsh.    

Read more: Ken Clarke forced to scrap prison sentencing plan

I’m told that it wasn’t just polling that changed the day on sentencing. When the judges started coming out over Easter attacking the 50 per cent remission policy it was badly holed. Ken Clarke’s own mantra has long been “trust the judges” and he couldn’t ignore their criticisms.

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