A shift away from short-term sentences should not be seen as the Conservatives going easy on criminals, the justice secretary has told members of his party. In his prison-heavy speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham today, David Gauke stressed that the government was correct to place less reliance on sentences of less than six months. 

He insisted to delegates that for minor crimes custody should be a ‘last resort’ and instead the focus should be on what is a successful way of cutting reoffending.  ‘I know there will be some who argue that this focus on alternatives to custody and rehabilitation is just soft justice,’ said Gauke.  ’But I’ll tell you this. If you’ve just been a victim of a crime, you’re not going to take much comfort from the fact that the perpetrator just spent the last three months locked up for most of the day and was released last week with no job, no home, no hope and no chance.’ 

Gauke confirmed that the government would spend £5m to introduce the country’s first ‘Secure School’ at Medway in Kent, run by not-for-profit academy trusts, with an emphasis on education and healthcare for those in youth custody. A selection process for the provider will be opened later this month.  

The justice secretary added he would launch a new Financial Crime Unit to track and seize the money that criminal bosses use to to deal drugs in prison. 

Gauke said the Conservatives would make the case for ‘mainstream values and the rule of law’, and contrasted his party with calls from members of the Labour Party at its conference last week for a general strike. 

Aside from a brief tribute to people working in the justice system, the lord chancellor made no mention of other justices issues: he did not address legal aid spending, access to justice or the court reform programme being overseen by his department.