A Credible Justice Policy

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The last few weeks haven’t been the best for Ken Clarke what with his revealing comments on rape and the shambles over the 50% sentencing discount but Labour can’t assume that because the Tories are making a mess of it, we’ll benefit.

Clarke aside, not all their ideas are mad but their reforms are driven by cuts. Sadiq Khan argues that Labour’s approach must be both principled and effective. I agree and effectiveness must include a public credibility test.

Sadiq says that one of the weaknesses in the last government was that ‘we had to give off the impression we were ever more tough on crime just to demonstrate we weren’t soft ’. He wants a bigger focus on rehabilitation and the merits of investing in reduced reoffending. That will strike a chord with justice ‘experts’ but how do we reconcile their views with the public?

The difficulties are obvious but Government is supposed to be about representing the people and justice policies need to be credible? We’ve got to make sure we don’t get stuck with something very clever and rational at the very moment rising crime and dissatisfaction with Clarke lead to demands for toughness.

 If there’s money in the election kitty the Tories will go to the country promising more police and prisons.  Clarke will be sacrificed for a hard man. Step forth Eric Pickles. A Northern Tory who delights in offence but connects with people. If that happens we must be sure that our strategy is robust enough for the shock tactics. We’ve got to demonstrate that we’re about getting the maximum for our investment and that we won’t let the system belong to the ‘experts’ and we’ll curb some of the nonsense about offenders’ rights.

There are areas where reform can work for us. On prisons the question isn’t: who runs prisons but how they are run? Why is it easier to get drugs and other contraband inside than out? Why is there so much legal help for them compared with help available for victims? And why we don’t do more about literacy and numeracy to help stop reoffending?

Victims must be at the centre of Labour’s plans so that courts don’t concentrate on the impact of the offence. Community courts, for lower level crimes, have public support and should be pursued even if the legal establishment is sceptical. Intensive monitoring and supervision for those leaving prison and on community sentences work but must be enforced.  Testing, direction and control must be absolute features of substance abuse plans.

It will be hard to sell justice but our starting point should be that there are no savings and no quick gains but a combination of punishment and rehabilitation with the rights of victims and the law abiding at the forefront can be credible.  A policy forged with the public can succeed but they must feel ownership. We’ve got to encourage participation in community courts and involve them in the design of punishment and justice projects.

Attacking the obvious flaws in Clarke’s approach while developing a policy that’s effective and credible sounds right to me but we need to keep an eye on Pickles.

Steve McCabe MP

Selly Oak

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