Our prison system is set up for punishment, but rehabilitation takes a back seat. I hope under a Conservative government that will change. Being tough doesn't just mean locking people up and throwing away the key. A tough politician will take tough choices - and that means locking up fewer people and devoting more resources to preparing prisoners for life on the outside. Only in that way will reoffending rates drop.
There is one way in which prison works. If an offender is locked up he can't commit an offence. But it's a short term fix. Many offenders who are sent to prison for short term sentences go into prison as normally decent citizens who have made one mad mistake. They emerge from the prison system twice as likely to commit a crime again and very likely to be drug dependent.
Prison should be a place where people go who are a clear and present danger to society. We need to re-evaluate why we seend people to prison and what happens to them when they are inside. The evidence shows that soft criminals emerge as hard criminals. That drug free prison entrants emerge as addicts to one form of drug or another. That they are not prepared for life on the outside and therefore turn again to a life of crime. That education and rehabilitation take second place to the prison officers' desire for a calm and stable prison life.
When Ken Clarke was last Home Secretary the prison population was half what it is now. Has our society become twice as criminal? Jack Straw would argue that if we imprison so many people, it means they can't commit offences. As easy but puerile argument, because it merely delays their entry back into lives of crime.
Ken Clarke's speech today is a breath of fresh air, but I have no doubt that he will be derided as weak, liberal and unconservative by many on the right and authoritarian Labour left.
I agree we must be tough on crime, but we must also reexamine what is happening in our penal system, and surely anyone can see that it is not fit for purpose. Hardened criminals must be punished, and punished by losing their freedom. But for others community sentences, or even tougher financial penalties may be more appropriate. Prison is not always the right thing. It ought to be the sentence of last resort, rather than first.
Ken Clarke is showing courage by making this speech today, and I hope he has the political will to drive through the reforms to our prison and sentencing systems which are long overdue.