FOR those who want to see the law come down on criminals like a ton of bricks, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is a bit of a nightmare.
He has long been anti-prison for all but the most appalling of offenders under any circumstances now that he is part of a Government apparatus trying to hack billions from every department he has extra leave to fulfil his dreams.
At least public sentiment managed to prompt a U-turn over his proposals for greater sentence discounts for guilty pleas.
But a constant three-part mantra of his is that prison doesn’t work, it is very expensive and in fact it is a school for hardening criminals.
He often quotes figures concerning the re-offending rates of those who have spent time inside, as if to say “see, it didn’t work.”
What he doesn’t cite so often are the “success” rates of alternative penalties.
We had a story in the paper the other day showing that of the 56,000 hours of unpaid work handed down by Wigan magistrates over the last year, more than 22,000 of them remain outstanding.
No doubt some of them will include those who are mid-way through successfully completing their punishments.
But the majority will be those who have simply managed to dodge it, throwing a sicky or just thumbing their noses at the authorities.
There was also a national story this week that showed that Britain’s courts are owed an astonishing £2bn in unpaid fines.
Meanwhile Mr Clarke wants to cut further corners by letting more and more criminal suspects out on bail (while failing to indicate just how many crimes are committed by such people at such times).
Does he factor in the cost of investigating the countless crimes committed while crooks are not banged up, the amount of unpaid work not carried out and the lost billions in fine revenue when saying that prison is an expensive waste of time for many felons?
If serial and serious offenders are kept locked away long enough that both keeps us safe from them for a good while and ensures that they are in the best place for rehabilitation - in other words they are a captive audience.
Avoiding jail is a false economy Ken.