So once again we're clean out of prison places, and as a direct result we're having to turn convicted sex offenders loose on the streets.
Are you a betting man/woman/goat? OK, without the benefit of hindsight, what odds would you have given that we could have a straight run of four Home Secretaries quite as whimperingly incompetent as Jack Straw, Bonkers Blunkers, Smiler Clarke, and Doc Reid? Just like that- one after the other.
Obviously, if you were dealing with any other walk of life, the probablity would have to be vanishingly small. Some self-limiting feedback law of nature would have kicked in long before now to stop it happening. For example, a company managed like that would have gone bust.
But in politics it's the norm. And somehow we just seem to accept it.
Think back to the so-called Great Home Secretaries.
Er... umm... can't name any, huh?
The usual answers are Michael Howard and Woy Jenkins.
Howard- roundly excoriated by the Labour and the lib media throughout his tenure- was the man who forced through a big prison building programme, and who actually got recorded crime numbers heading down. The only time that has ever been achieved by any Home Secretary in modern times.
Jenkins was the "great reforming Home Secretary" who gave legislative expression to the swinging sixties, a decade when Britain's recorded crime rate doubled (at this point, we would have previously referred to schh-you-know-what, but because of this, we can't).
So from where I'm sitting, I think we've only actually had one post-War Home Secretary who was any good. And it wasn't Woy.
Looked at that way, we can all see the last four clownish incumbents follow a long and dishonourable line. We should not be at all surprised they have failed to plan for the continued growth in prison numbers.
Still, if you can bear to, it is worth refreshing your memory on the key facts (see this blog):
- In deciding how many new prisons to build, the HO has failed to follow its own prison population projections: eg in 2002, they forecast a range of possible requirements for this year, ranging from 86,700 to 100,700. Yes that's right, somewhere between 7,000 and 21,000 more places than they've actually built.
- Unlike his immediate predecessors, Reid did promise to build another 8,000 places; but with Gordo having frozen the HO budget, it still isn't clear where the money's coming from.
- Although there's constant whining about how you can't produce these places overnight, PFI prisons can be built and opened in as little as 22 months: Reid's already had 8.
The current top-down, too big, too incompetent for purpose Home Office needs a radical shake-up. We can all see that.
But simply splitting it in two to grab some headlines off Gordo, won't achieve anything. If anything it will worsen the silo problems that have lain behind several of its more spectacular cock-ups over recent years.
Law and order is far too important to be left any longer in the hands of our bungling Big Government politicians. Just like the police, prisons should be made the responsibility of locally elected sheriffs. It's the only way we taxpaying law-abiding citizens can even hope to get traction over this mess.