Sunday 18 July 2010

Criminal Justice - Something to Celebrate?

There seems to be a real prospect of a progressive approach following the new Justice Secretary Ken Clarke's remarks about the folly of expanding the number of prisoners in England and Wales in recent years. Following a backlash from his predecessor in the last Tory government (Michael "Prison Works" Howard) the jazz-loving, suede-shod, veteran Minister struck back:-

"There is not and never has been, in my opinion, any direct correlation between spiralling growth in the prison population and a fall in crime.

"Crime has fallen in Britain throughout a period of both rising prison populations, and throughout the same period of economic growth, with strong employment levels and rising living standards.

"No-one can prove cause and effect. The crime rate fell but was this the consequence of the policies of my successors as Home Secretary or, dare I gently hint, mine as Chancellor of the Exchequer at the beginning of a period of growth and strong employment?"

Long ago I met Howard (a Welshman of course - my Dad recollected his parents' shop in Llanelli selling ladies' fashions) when he was Home Secretary: he was holding forth enthusiastically at a conference dinner in Cardiff about the then new-fangled invention of car radios which were rendered inoperative when stolen. I was then working for NACRO and had been tipped off by clients in East Swansea that this inoperation could be reversed by placing the radio in a freezer overnight. I told the Home Sec about this: "Nonsense!" was his reasoned reply (mind you, I hope he is right about today's car radios or else please keep this trick to yourselves). I haven't met Ken but always liked the story that his very first instruction when appointed Health Secretary and on entering his office at Richmond House was to call for an ash-tray.

The challenge will be to ensure that the 10% of men and up to 27% of women in prison who have a severe mental illness (I'm talking about psychosis, not just the still very serious problems affecting many more prisoners) are the priority for an alternative approach. Hafal's Criminal Justice Link services now have in-depth knowledge of the experience of many individual prisoners which will inform our campaign.

For Hafal's policy perspective on criminal justice see here; if you have a serious mental illness and are in trouble with the law see our detailed guidance here.

Meanwhile ideas about punishment do vary: I read this week that Justice Robert Shuster sentenced two unfortunate miscreants in Tonga to be whipped with the cat-o'-nine-tails (it was reversed on appeal). And where did His Honour get his inspiration from? I will let him speak for himself:"I have no doubt that whipping them is barbaric, but when I was at school in Wales I got the stick just for talking in class. A lot of people would think that the sentence I imposed was a fair punishment". It is heartening to note that the much-vaunted Welsh education system is projecting its progressive values even to the other end of the world.