Clarke, desistance and the riots

None of the regular readers of this blog (are there regular readers of this blog??) will have missed yesterday’s comments from Ken Clarke about the role of the criminal justice system failures in the English riots…

Among the more interesting bits was where Clarke writes:

However, reform can’t stop at our penal system alone. The general recipe for a productive member of society is no 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. What is different now is that a growing minority of people in our nation lack all of those things and, indeed, have substituted an inflated sense of expectation for a commitment to hard graft.

Sounds like someone has been reading his desistance literature or having it read for him. Actually, this isn’t really a joke — the original green paper laying out the blueprint for the still unfulfilled (by a long shot) ‘rehabilitation revolution’ uses the word desist twenty six times by my count and cites some of the the recent British research along these lines in its ‘Evidence Report’:

Of course, once this moves from the Guardian into the tabloids, we can expect another abrupt U-turn (if punishment is failing, then we need to punish more, and if that fails, we have to punish even more, and if that fails, we really step it up a notch). Who needs evidence, after all, when you’ve got healthy newspaper sales.


6 thoughts on “Clarke, desistance and the riots”

  1. As a prison governor, I think he fails to mention some key issues and blaming prison for a failure to rehabilitate is the same as solely blaming poor schools for failed children. As in education, low expectations of everyone connected to service provision for the ‘disadvantaged’, including those of the disadvantaged themselves, alongside a lack of positive role models and appropriate peer support networks perpetuates the label of “criminal”. The issue of motivation is also never explored-for some we need to realise that unless we address the question, “why should I change?”, we end up trying to ‘do’ rehabilitation to an offender rather than with them.


  2. I couldn’t help noticing that yet again no mention is being made by politicians of reform of the completely inadequate Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as a means of helping to reduce reoffending. Why should employers recognise ‘offenders’ as being rehabilitated if the law doesn’t? Clarke ducked reform of this legislation in favour of a ‘Punishment of Offenders Bill’ – even though the MoJ consulted on reform from the Breaking the Cycle green paper.


  3. Both are great points. Paul, I noticed Phil Wheatley replied to the Guardian with much of the same argument as yours about scapegoating prisons:

    But, he misses your more important points about stigma and low expectations — something I wrote about in the Prison Service Journal recently…

    Click to access 10004BD6PSJ_192_November_2010.pdf

    And also the great point you make about doing rehabilitation “to” individuals rather than “with” them — that one sentence probably summarises the desistance perspective as well as any we could muster.

    And, Andy, your points are exactly right too. UNLOCK have a fantastic campaign on changing the Rehab of Offenders Act
    as does Nacro at
    Nicky Padfield has some smart things to say about it in the European Journal of Probation as well…

    Anyway, thanks both for commenting. Amazed people are finding this blog. I might get into this new technology stuff.


  4. Hi Shadd – have read both your and Nicky’s papers in this edition of EJP very good points in both. I already work with UNLOCK as a volunteer and am aware that you are a patron – also looking to undertake a PhD into some of the issues here. Perhaps I’ll send you the proposal for your views?


  5. Hi folks – as Steve said, that’s the Manchester leg completed. As well as the birds and ducks I didn’t realise that people were so health conscious down there and they certainly have more than their share of joggers. Yes the conversation with Darren and Charlie was quite insightful and really interesting and I hope that this can maybe be captured in full in some way. I’ve actually been quite struck by how patient, honest and open our participants have been and really the success of this whole project will be down directly to them. From my own point of view it has been a fascinating experience and it has added to my own knowledge and experience of the system (just when i thought i knew it all ha). I guess if I have any complaints to date it would be that Steve didn’t share his brolly fairly and he made me sit on the particularly damp and wet part of the bench in Manchester. However, this hasn’t put me off any and i’m lookng forward to the next section…..



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