Reaction to Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s first major speech on prisons

New Justice Secretary receives a positive reaction as he sets a new tone 

Justice Secretary Michael Gove  hold a book on prison reform while leaving hospital. Source: Shepton Mallet Journal

Justice Secretary Michael Gove hold a book on prison reform while leaving hospital. The photographer, who was in hospital after a pruning accident, said he got this photo by “shear luck”. Source: Shepton Mallet Journal


The new Justice Secretary Michael Gove gave his first major speech on prisons last week. He spoke of the need to improve education for inmates, to knock down old prisons and build new ones, and to give prison governors more autonomy.

The reaction from the press and penal reformers has been broadly positive. Here is what they had to say.


General reaction to  Justice Secretary’s speech 

Mr Gove said that society is “failing to make prisons work as they should” and that prisons “are not playing their part in rehabilitating offenders as they should.”

The Independent’s headline summed up the positive reaction to Mr Gove’s speech: “The quality of mercy: Michael Gove’s thoughtful remarks on prisons show a potentially great Justice Secretary in the making.”

It contrasted him favourably with his predecessor Chris Grayling:

“Mr Gove, by contrast [to Mr Grayling], has brought an inquiring mind and humane instincts to this sensitive job….on the evidence to date, Michael Gove may prove to be a great reforming Justice Secretary.”

The Guardian said that penal reformers praised Mr Gove as a “breath of fresh air”. It also noted the new tone in the Justice Secretary’s speech:

“notable for its complete change of tone from his predecessor, Chris Grayling, who repeatedly insisted there was no crisis in the prisons.”



Penal reformers have their say  

Frances Crook, the chief executive of The Howard League for Penal Reform, wrote in her blog: “I welcome his vision and his language” and said “the tone is positive and the ideas are interesting“.

However, she did qualify her remarks:

“But – and there is a very big but – when I asked him  how he was going to achieve his objective of improving conditions, particularly education, when there are too many prisoners and not enough staff, he replied that he is still considering sentencing and will speak about that at a later date. Understandable, perhaps, but it is the crucial question which cannot be ducked for long.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, also agreed that there was a new tone in Mr Gove’s speech, but said the key was what actions he now took.

“Michael Gove is certainly not starting with a clean slate. The pace and scale of change over the last few years has been both thoughtless and relentless. The challenge now is to translate this marked new reflective tone set by the Justice Secretary into sensible policy and to create a just, humane and effective penal system.”

The Prisoner’s Education Trust (PET) also welcomed Mr Gove’s speech. Alexandra Marks, chair of Prisoners Learning Alliance, which was formed by PET in 2012 and where Mr Gove gave his speech, said:

“The fall in purposeful activity in prisons over the past year urgently needs to be addressed to help rehabilitate prisoners and make them less likely to commit crime on release. We are pleased Mr Gove recognises this need to improve education outcomes and that he wants to give prisoners and staff the tools to do so.”


A warning on the tabloids’ reaction  

The left-leaning blog Left Foot Forward said The Daily Mail’s reaction was “surprisingly relaxed” saying:

“The ‘Hang ’em, Flog ’em’ newspaper, not known for its humanitarian attitude to criminals, is intensely relaxed about Gove’s proposal.”

Here is The Daily Mail’s take on the story.

Daily Mail


The Sun couldn’t resist a punning headline, but still sadly refers to prisoners as “lags”.

Sun said there was a revolution at the Ministry of Justice with Mr Gove’s speech being “thoughtful, liberal, evidence-based and showed he recognised the moral catastrophe of previous failed attempts at rehabilitation.”

However, it warned that the tabloids would not stay calm for long if prisoners started to be released:

“We’re not in a position to spend money on more officers, so the only give is in prison numbers. But once you go down that road the tabloid headlines about criminals escaping justice start coming out on a daily basis.”


What do you think?  

It appears Mr Gove has made a positive first impression, but the real evidence will be in his actions. What did you think of his first major speech on prisons so far?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s