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Before the Wars

Churchill as Reformer (1910 – 1911)- With a Foreword by Sir Martin Gilbert


Alan Baxendale

Winston Churchill will be forever known as the great statesman who bravely led Britain through the war years, but what led the young Churchill down this path to greatness? What motivated him to become the future leader?
Delving into documentary records in the Home Office archive, Alan S. Baxendale brings to light the young Churchill’s war at home while Home Secretary from February 1910 to October 1911. Passionate about reforming prison treatment and sentencing, Churchill engaged with his senior Home Office staff and His Majesty’s Prison Commissioners in a daily discussion of the business of criminal justice. With a focus on his working methods and relationships with his staff, Baxendale offers a new look at Churchill as a young and talented politician whose leadership led to innovative reforms that are still influential today.
This book makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the criminal justice system, providing a crucial addition to our understanding of the history of prison reform. It also gives us valuable insight into Churchill as a person, shedding light on his formative years as a minister and providing us with important clues to how he became one of the most successful politicians of modern times.


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Chapter 9: Churchill’s Penal Thought and Practice: An Assessment 165


chapter 9 Churchill’s Penal Thought and Practice: An Assessment In attempting to assess Churchill’s penal thought and practice during his time at the Home Office, one must, of course, take into account the con- text in which he operated. It was one of constraint, and it applied to all the responsibilities of his office. This was generated by the brevity of his Home Secretaryship and by the conservative nature of the Home Office and the Prison Commission. He held the office of Home Secretary for just over twenty months, little enough time to put into practice the penal thinking he had in mind when he was first appointed, let alone that which he devised when dealing with prisons on a day-to-day basis.1 During his tenure, moreover, his attention was needed for other matters, in addition to criminal justice, to say nothing of the time he had to set aside for cabinet discussions, attending the House of Commons (where, from time to time, he wound up debates for the Government), speaking engagements up and down the country, and the needs of his constituency. A related constraint was that, when he became the Home Secretary, he had no idea how long he would remain in the post, although he suspected his tenure might be short because of the likelihood of an early general election to resolve the continuing constitutional crisis which was polarizing the two Houses of Parliament. Even if he were to hold his seat and the Liberal Government were to...

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