Labour party conference
Iâ€™ve spent the last few days at Labour Party conference speaking to party members and politicians at the Howard Leagueâ€™s stand as well as debating criminal justice policy at a number of fringes.
Last night Lord Prescott spoke at the Howard Leagueâ€™s fringe on policing and young people and said it is â€˜overwhelmingly clearâ€™ that putting so many young people in jail doesnâ€™t work. And at a joint Fabian / Howard League fringe on Monday evening Tony McNulty, former Labour Home Office Minister, admitted that IPPs are a â€˜failed policyâ€™ of the last Labour Government.
This morning Labourâ€™s Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Sadiq Khan, made his speech to Labour Conference.
Over the past year or so I have been quite critical of Labourâ€™s Justice policy. Opposing Government plans for a more sensible use of remand, supporting Tory backbench calls for harsher sentencing for children found guilty of knife crime and defending the failed IPP sentence have all struck me as policies focussed on political point scoring rather than intelligent penal policy.
But this morningâ€™s speech is, on the whole, a step in the right direction.
Mr Khan has announced the next Labour government intends to give a Justice Minister specific responsibility for rooting out mental health problems in our criminal justice system. It is shameful that the large numbers of people in prisons in England and Wales who suffer from mental health problems do not get the help they require and I am pleased that the Labour Party is acknowledging the issue.
I also welcome the announcement that a Labour government would extend Freedom of Information Legislation to cover the delivery of public services by private companies. Regular readers of this blog will know how strongly I feel about the fact that some of our prisons are run by companies such as G4S to make a profit. On Monday I wrote on this blog that even more prisons are likely to be contracted out to the private sector with an announcement due in November. In order to hold these companies to account it is vital that they are accountable in the same way as publicaly run services are, and Iâ€™m not talking just about the prison service, but also healthcare and other public services contracted out to the private sector. I am glad the Labour party agrees.
A focus on restorative justice is also to be welcomed. Mr Khan has proposed that courts will have to consider the option of restorative justice as part of any sentence handed down. Polling in a report recently published by Victim Support and Make Justice Work shows that seven out of ten victims of lower level crime agreed they should have the opportunity to tell the offender about the impact of their actions. Clearly, restorative justice is not for everyone, but in those cases where it is appropriate it can be an effective tool. Labour must back up any support for restorative justice with a pledge that these types of interventions are properly funded and available to sentencers.
Finally, I welcome a focus on reducing the numbers of women in prison. Whilst I would have some concerns about the introduction of a Womenâ€™s Justice Board modelled on the Youth Justice Board (because this board initially presided over a huge increase in the use of custody and diversion of funding away from community provision for children into the criminal justice system) I am pleased that Mr Khan and his team are focussing on an issue that the Howard League has campaigned on tirelessly for many years.
It is good to finally hear some concrete proposals coming from Labourâ€™s Shadow Justice team. With the partyâ€™s policy review now in the hands of Jon Cruddas, I am more positive than I have been in recent years about the direction of Labourâ€™s Justice policy.