United Kingdom

The Tories are about to rediscover the cost of being seen as soft on crime

There are no votes to be won in penal reform, but plenty to be lost by being seen as soft on crime. The politicians’ dilemma down the years is how to balance the two. They have tended to err on the “tough on offenders” side and neglect the impact on the prison estate, hoping that it will somehow sort itself out – or that no one will care if it doesn’t.

But they do care if the jails become so full that criminals have to be released early or are given community sentences rather than custody. These matters used to be in the bailiwick of the Home Secretary, but were transferred to the Ministry of Justice in 2007, with Alex Chalk KC the current holder of the poisoned chalice.

A barrister who has helped bang up quite a few criminals in the past, Mr Chalk is now being forced to let some of them out earlier than planned because the prisons in England and Wales are full to bursting.