Sophie Willett, of The Howard League for Penal Reform, rebuts some of the right wing tabloids' myths about the Ministry of Justice green paper, 'Breaking the cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders'.
Sophie Willett, of The Howard League for Penal Reform, rebuts some of the right wing tabloids’ myths about the Ministry of Justice green paper, ‘Breaking the cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders‘
The exponential rise in the number of people we send to prison is nothing to be proud of. By the time somebody has gone to prison it is too late; the damage has been done, somebody has been a victim of crime. Wanting more people in prison suggests that we simply have to put up with crime and deal with the consequences. This is not the case.
There are social and economic factors that contribute towards crime. The Howard League recently commented on an alcoholic man sent to prison for the 73rd time for a short sentence. He stole drink to feed his addiction. What use is it to send him to prison for a few weeks over and over again at extortionate cost to the taxpayer?
We talk about prison as though it is a successful outcome; it’s not. We must strive to remove the factors that lead to crime in the first place.
The green paper asserts,:
“We have no intention of abolishing the mandatory life sentence or of prompting any general reduction in minimum terms imposed for murder.”
When we abolished capital punishment half a century ago the deal agreed was to have an automatic life sentence for all who murdered. This lumps together a husband who takes the life of his terminally ill wife, a woman who kills an abusive husband and a serial killer of children.
The Howard League is disappointed that the government is not going to reform the law that needs flexibility to be fair and safe.
A commitment to restorative justice (RJ) featured in the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties’ manifestos. All parties agree there is a place for restorative justice in the modern justice system. RJ importantly meets the needs of victims by giving them a say in the process and an opportunity to tell the offender face to face of the traumatic impact that their crime has had on their personal lives.
It is the only part of the criminal justice system that has the support of victims. Research shows that restorative justice works best when it deals with crimes where there is an identifiable victim who may meet with the offender. It is not suitable for all perpetrators, victims or crimes – but then again no single approach is.
Legal aid is the mainstay of a democratic state. Cuts to legal aid mean it will become the domain of the destitute and excluded. Of the people who will no longer qualify for legal aid, women outnumber men by nearly six to four; ethnic minorities and people with disabilities are also more likely to be denied legal aid after the reforms.
In the face of swingeing public sector cuts, where local authorities will struggle to provide statutory duties to citizens, legal aid is regarded as central in providing access to justice by ensuring equality before the law, the right to counsel and the right to a fair trial.
• Read the Howard League’s response to the MoJ green paper on their website – www.howardleague.org – next week.
• See also: Making the rehabilitation revolution a reality, February 23rd.
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