Senior Figures Warn of Imminent 'Penal Populism' and Attack on Liberalism
Experts across the board fear a Trump-style Boris Johnson Government would be a threat to the criminal justice system.
Boris Johnson’s American Right-style attacks on liberalism will see Britain’s criminal justice system lurch towards populism, the former chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick has warned.
Speaking last night at a Byline Times event for the launch of the latest edition of The Justice Gap’s Proof magazine, the Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway, University of London, said that Mr Johnson was copying the right-wing in the US, where “the term ‘liberal’ has become a term of abuse”.
“There is now going to be a lurch to penal populism, that’s coming down the tracks and we need to be concerned”Professor Nick Hardwick
“I think the window of opportunity [for criminal justice reform] has closed,” he said. “I think it’s too late. I think we should be very worried about the future and I think we should we be very worried about the policies that Boris Johnson is likely to introduce when he becomes Prime Minister.
“We saw recently his article where he mimics the American Right in his attack on liberals in the Parole Board. I am liberal, I don’t find that an insult. But, you can see the way in the States the term ‘liberal’ has become a term of abuse… [Boris Johnson] doesn’t mean that as a compliment.”
Professor Hardwick was joined in his concerns about the Conservative party leadership favourite by former prison governor John Podmore who said “we need to prepare for a hanger, flogger secretary of state for justice in the next two weeks”.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform charity, also added ominously: “Be afraid, be very afraid.”
Professor Hardwick, a highly respected and experienced public servant, was chief inspector of prisons for six years until 2016, when he became chair of the Parole Board of England and Wales – the independent body tasked with deciding whether a prisoner who has served their minimum term of imprisonment is safe to be released.
But, he was effectively sacked from the position last year following the controversy around the Parole Board’s decision to release the black cab rapist John Worboys. The Justice Secretary David Gauke told Professor Hardwick he had to resign and that he didn’t want to get “macho” with him over the matter.
Mr Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds was one of Worboys’ victims.
In the Daily Telegraph column in May, Mr Johnson slammed the Parole Board as “simple slaves to political correctness” and said “there are certainly some ways in which we need to be more progressive in our handling of criminals; and yet there are plenty of other ways in which I am afraid our system is simply far too soft”.
And, last week, speaking to the Daily Mail – for an article titled: ‘Boris Johnson: My War on Soft Justice‘ – he said he would change sentencing guidelines as Prime Minister so that those handed 14 years or more in prison for a violent or sexual offence would be expected to serve the whole term and not be eligible for release halfway through.
Mr Hardwick said he had taken Boris Johnson’s attacks on liberals personally and “I’m proud to say it”.
“We need to prepare for a hanger, flogger secretary of state for justice in the next two weeks”John Podmore
“When he talks about people who are sentenced to 14 years or more should serve the whole sentence, I checked the figures today,” he added. “That’s another 4,000 people a year in prison… The consequences of that is not merely the 4,000 people who will be directly affected, but the effect that will have on sentence inflation. It will pull sentences longer across the board and that will push up the prison population and do you think they’re going to pay for that increase in the prison population and pump in more staff to cope with it? I don’t think so. And that will then put paid to any improvement that we’ve seen.
“I think there is now going to be a lurch to penal populism, that’s coming down the tracks and we need to be concerned.”
Come and meet Hardeep and other Byline Times writers at this summer’s Byline Festival
Main photo by Andy Aitchison