Michael Gove is excelling in his prison policy – but the Grinch look doesn’t fit.
Given how popular the news might have been, it was a little surprising to see it tucked away in the written questions section of the parliament website.
Justice minister Andrew Selous confirmed there will be no Christmas parties held in any prison across the estate this year, neither will any public funds be on offer to facilitate Christmas parties for prisoners.
The answer was in response to a question from a Labour MP, Wayne David, who had asked how much from the ‘public purse’ was spent on these Christmas festivities.
Now of course, the headlines if Selous had announced the government had hired Noddy Holder to play Broadmoor and Santa was popping into Pentonville would have been disastrous. It would have been yet more fodder for those who claim prison to be a holiday camp which does little - if anything - to dissuade occupants from returning.
But is it really asking too much to put up a little tinsel and offer pigs in blankets to the inmates at Christmas?
I’m not suggesting that serial killers or rapists should be handed the party hats and Pogues records, but surely there is scope for bringing a little Christmas cheer to those with a realistic chance of being back in the outside world within a couple of years or months?
We should all want these prisoners to feel included in society. Ideally, they would then repay our faith in them by keeping out of trouble again. Sure, many won’t, but the plan of alienating people already feeling out-cast is hardly likely to encourage them to go straight.
Michael Gove is saying some genuinely encouraging and progressive things about how to treat people in prison: rehabilitation and education were themes of his conference party speech and over the last year his department has also increased the number of prison staff by a net 540.
A reformist approach to prison policy helps us all, ultimately, so whether Gove is motivated by a liberal zeal or basic pragmatism is irrelevant – we should welcome his efforts.
Perhaps the reform agenda could extend to a little Christmas cheer as well. If the Ministry of Justice wants to use my taxes to stick Mariah Carey on the prison party playlist, that’s ok by me.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor