Manifestos, elections and dessert
I may be in Brazil but Iâ€™m keeping an eye on the general election. All the election manifestos (including our own) are out and the requisite political promises have been made. As the director of a charity I should say from the start that I am duty bound to be politically neutral and for that reason I shall try to find a little good in all of them. I should also state that when it comes to election promises I believe the proof lies in the pudding and that I shall wait with bated breath for the promises of this election campaign to come into fruition (and, in some cases, that certain promises get quietly ditched at the earliest opportunity).
The Conservative manifesto shows a good deal of promise relating to real work in prison, a major plank of our own Take Action 2010 campaign. They speak of enacting the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996 so that prisoners can undertake real work in prison and be taxed like the rest of us. This is something the Howard League supports in principle, and would be keen to influence in terms of the practical detail.
The Liberal Democrats focus on cutting the number of people receiving short sentences is very welcome and follows on the back of a National Audit Office report in which it was proved that the 66,000 sentences of less than a year each year not only donâ€™t work but cost us Â£10 billion annually for the privilege.
Further the Liberal Democrat pledge to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is very welcome indeed.
The Labour Partyâ€™s focus on restorative justice is welcome news as is their mention of increased use of community sentencing.
The Green Party is correct to focus on societyâ€™s past demonization of young people and their pledge to get local authorities to increase investment in activities for young people is a sensible community based approach to cutting crime.
Plaid Cymru calls for the devolution of youth justice to Wales which is something we have backed in the past and also states its renewed opposition to titan prisons.
While the political parties have said positive things about justice all political parties are also guilty of talking up how tough on crime they are. At one point in their manifesto Labour seem to celebrate the increase in the prison population as a sign of success. Meanwhile, the Conservatives seem keen to increase the sentencing powers of magistrates from 6 months to a year which is not exactly what we had in mind when we talked about the need to cut the number of short sentences.Â Â
As I began with a dessert theme it is only appropriate to finish with one. Jonathan Swift rather famously declared that, â€˜promises and pie crusts are made to be brokenâ€™. Iâ€™m not sure if I share this cynicism but the point is well taken. We have heard positive noises from all sides on matters of criminal justice before and yet the prison population has continued to rise. With the effects of a global recession still being heavily felt and the prison population heading once again towards record highs talk of a prison crisis is not exaggeration. For all the signs of good intention coming from all quarters of the political arena it is action and not words that the prison system needs most.
Some of the promises made by each of the parties have real potential to change Britain for the better. It is safe to say that no one party has all the answers and even safer to say that talk of change is nothing more than a good start. To claim anything more is to over egg the pudding in which the proof of change really lies.