Howard crack-down

IN A private letter to Michael Portillo, Michael Howard mooted the idea that “young thugs” could be sent to an army prison. This has been christened the “glasshouse scheme”, named after the original military prison in Colchester which had a glass roof.

In many ways these ‘radical’ proposals go beyond the government’s recent plans to introduce American-style “boot camps” for young offenders, the first of which is due to open next year in Cheshire.

The Military Corrective Training Centre (MCTC) at Colchester has a militaristic, uniform-based regime. The day starts at 6am, with inmates marching at 120 paces a minute. There is, of course, a strict exercise ethos, which can involve carrying telegraph poles - a productive activity if ever there was one. Inmates return to their dormitories of 10 beds at 8pm.

The very idea that such a regime could reform and integrate “young thugs” back into the warm bosom of mainstream society would be screamingly funny, if it were not so sick. When you discover that Ron and Reggie Kray are former graduates of this enlightened establishment, it makes the entire concept seem virtually surreal.

Michael Howard’s latest flight of populist rightwing fancy actually flies in the face of mainstream bourgeois opinion. The Woolf Report, which condemned prisons as being too regimented and ‘punishment-orientated’, was eagerly embraced by the establishment. All but one of its 12 main recommendations were accepted by the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker.

The irrational nature of Howard’s scheme-mongering is displayed by the fact that even his own department’s research shows that a 26% increase in prison numbers ‘achieves’ a one percent reduction in crime. Although Howard infamously trumpeted that “prison works!”, prison numbers under him have risen sharply. 10,000 were added to the existing 40,000 at the end of 1992. For most of his time numbers have been climbing by an average of 300 a month - the equivalent of an extra Dartmoor every two months.

We must be ready for Howard’s desire to explore new forms of punishment. All attempts to ‘crack down’ are part of moves by the ruling class to salvage the capitalist system, at our expense. The bosses are the real criminals, not the victims of capitalism’s ruthless quest for profits.

Eddie Ford