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Jose Luis Borges described the Falklands war between Britain and Argentina as "a fight between two bald men over a comb", and his pithy summary also neatly encapsulates the prison plans announced in March by the Conservatives, which would see a new form of reparation being paid by prisoners to their victims, but more crucially plans to increase prison capacity to 100,000 - five thousand more places than the Government has pledged.
For, no matter how creative the Tories would like to be - and their proposals for prisons to have "a purpose" based on "real work" and rehabilitation suggests that they do understand that we simply cannot warehouse people and then hope that they won't re-offend when they are released - they are inextricably locked in a meaningless party political battle about who is tougher on crime and criminals, which is of course merely code for who is prepared to send more people to jail.

Cameron knows this more than most in his party, for in the early 1990s he was a special adviser to the then Home Secretary Michael Howard, who famously declared that "prison works", and who seemed to be prepared to fight any battle with his New Labour Shadows - Tony Blair and Jack Straw - to send more and more people to prison. Indeed, their prison point-scoring reached such a level of consensus that there was even cross party support for the Crime Sentences Act in 1997, which saw mandatory minimum sentencing introduced, and which as a result now means that we have more life sentenced prisoners than the whole of Western Europe combined.

Even so, as a former Prison Governor, I was also pleased to see that the Tories would like governors to decide when prisoners serving short sentences should be released - based on how they had behaved in custody - especially as I think that this might encourage governors to have a voice in the public policy debate about prisons and imprisonment. I have grown tired of waiting for the current generation of governors to say anything at all about the state of our prisons, and while Chief Constables of Police are only too willing to engage in the debate about law and order, our governors seem to prefer to hide behind the label of "civil servant" and stay silent during this period of an unparalleled rise in the numbers who are being locked up - almost half of whom are serving sentences of less than six months.
Let the bald men keep fighting for their comb if they must, but let's not pretend that we can build our way out of this prison crisis, or that prisons which simply lock more and more people up can do anything to overcome the causes of crime and will therefore make our community safer.

David Wilson - Professor in Criminology at Birmingham City University.

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