WRITING FOR POLITICSHOME, SHADOW JUSTICE SECRETARY SADIQ KHAN CALLS FOR ACTION TO BE TAKEN TO STOP RE-OFFENDING.
If broken promises were ever to be an indicator of success, this Government would get a gold star. In justice alone, promises to build more prisons, to create a rehabilitation revolution and to be on the sides of victims all broken. Instead, we’ve seen prison building stopped, prisons more overcrowded than ever and compensation threatened to nearly half of all victims of crime.
Broken promises breed cynicism amongst the public. In justice, we can’t afford a public losing confidence in a Government’s ability to keep their communities safe and protect victims and witnesses. I intend to learn from the failures of this government and I’m clear that the way forward is through policies that are clearly deliverable. As Ed Miliband has made clear, we need to under-promise and over-deliver, particularly as the circumstances we may find in 2015 will almost certainly continue to be challenging.
But there’s actually more to it than that. Labour must also take a principled position, and seek policies that not only match our values but are also proven to work. In justice, that means policies that will reduce re-offending, lower crime and keep the public safe. This is what a one nation government should do. This is a mature approach to policy-making, it seeks to avoid over-promising, and is instead focused on delivering cost-effective interventions.
What we’ve seen in Chris Grayling’s first couple of weeks as Justice Secretary is that his priorities don’t lie with what will truly help reduce re-offending. Instead his priorities are about placating his restless backbenchers. His announcements are focused on tossing red meat to Tory MPs that are now in control of our weak Prime Minister. It’s all about tough talk, but there’s no action and no policies grounded in what truly works. This is no way to keep our communities safe.
Instead, what we need is action. We need to declare war on re-offending. Too many of those coming out of our prisons and probation go back to a life of crime. So, by breaking this cycle, cutting repeat offending equals less crime, less victims of crime and a cheaper justice system. Focusing on re-offending is not soft on crime, it’s smart on crime.
And in my speech to Labour Party Conference today, I intend to take that battle with re-offending to a new level. I’m determined the next Labour Government will hit the ground running, with a suite of policies rooted in clear evidence they will work in breaking the cycle of re-offending. I want to emulate the success of existing policies, and draw on pilots, studies and research of work at the coalface that has had a real demonstrable impact.
Beginning that process, today I’m announcing we will look at emulating the successful joined up working seen in the Youth Justice Board with women offenders in our prisons and probation. Labour’s YJB has been a huge success in reducing youth crime, first time offending and the number of young people held in Young Offender Institutes and Secure Training Centres. Bringing together agencies at the local and national level – government, social services, education, health, probation and police – by sharing the objectives of reducing youth offending and re-offending it has shifted cultures. I think we can seek to replicate its success for women offenders by creating a Women’s Justice Board.
Similarly, I’m drawn to the use of restorative justice, which has seen dramatic falls in re-offending where it has been employed and evaluated. It’s also seen sharp rises in the satisfaction of victims who have gone through a restorative justice programme. Used in addition to traditional punishments, I believe it will lead to a more effective criminal justice system, so I intend to require judges and magistrates to consider the use of restorative justice when handing down sentences. This should raise both its profile and the important role it can play in our criminal justice system.
I’m also shocked at the scale of serious mental health problems in our prisons. Over 70% of prisoners have two or more mental health problems. Offenders leaving prison and probation with such health problems untreated will exacerbate any attempts at rehabilitation and so I believe it is right we champion the rooting out, and diversion where necessary, of those better treated by trained professionals. As an illustration of the priority I intend to place on this, I will appoint a Minister with a specific lead on mental health issues across our justice system to lead on this work.
I’m confident that Labour’s policies will illustrate our determination to reduce crime, make our communities safer and lower the cost of the justice system through a relentless drive to tackle re-offending. That's what Justice Secretary in a one nation government means. In the coming months, I intend to continue meeting with experts, victims of crime, visiting innovative schemes and listening to the experiences of those who have gone through successful rehabilitation schemes as I look towards Labour in 2015 delivering on its promises of targeting reductions in re-offending
Sadiq Khan MP is Shadow Secretary of State for Justice