Baroness Dee Doocey’s maiden speech

In recent months, LDV has been bringing its readers copies of our new MPs’ and Peers’ first words in Parliament, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. On Friday, Baroness Doocey made her maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill [HL]. Her words are reproduced below. Baroness Susan Kramer also made her maiden speech in the Lords during the same debate; we featured it yesterday.

My Lords, I also begin by saying that it is such an honour and privilege to make my first speech in your Lordships’ House. I feel that I have been here months rather than just a couple of weeks, but that is perhaps to do with the hours that the House has been sitting. I would like to say a particular thank you to my dear friends and sponsors, my noble friends Lady Harris of Richmond and Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay. I also thank all the Members on every side of the House who have made me feel so very welcome since I arrived. I also thank all the wonderful, outstanding staff who could not have been more helpful.

I come to the House with a varied background. I have been a finance director. I have managed an international fashion company and have been a management consultant. My political experience includes eight years as a councillor in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, where I chaired the housing committee. Since 2004, I have been a Member of the London Assembly and I currently serve as its chair. My duties on the Assembly include membership of the Metropolitan Police Authority and serving as a member of the Home Office’s Olympic Security Board.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dholakia on introducing his Private Member’s Bill to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. The Bill recognises that getting ex-offenders back into the labour market is a key element of rehabilitation. Like other noble Lords who have already spoken I, too, would like to confine my remarks to juvenile offenders.

I shall always remember my first visit to Feltham young offender institution in west London. It is just few yards from where I live. I was both shocked and deeply saddened by the acceptance of the offenders that they would never escape the cycle of crime. It was almost as if they thought that that was their lot in life. Many of them had really harrowing stories to tell about their upbringing. As someone who grew up in a deprived community in Ireland, I found it very easy to understand the issues. However, I was very lucky. I had the love and support of a close-knit family, something that most of these young men had never known.

Your Lordships may be aware that Feltham was the subject of controversy several years ago, with reports of violent assaults and allegations of racism; but significant progress has been made, and Feltham has been praised for its effective reception and induction facilities, the outreach team that deals with self-harm issues, and the measures in place to deal with race relations issues.

I should like to pay particular tribute to the innovative work that the Mayor of London and the London Metropolitan Police Authority have done in Feltham. In 2009, a pilot scheme called the London Reducing Reoffending Programme was launched, better known as Project Daedalus. This project aims to break the cycle of youth reoffending through intensive support which begins inside custody and continues beyond the prison gates after release into the community. The target group for the project is young men aged 17 to 19 who are subject to a detention and training order and who are from one of six London boroughs. These young offenders have also been assessed as motivated to address their offending behaviour, a crucial element in resettlement.

To date, 43 young people have been placed in the unit, with 24 of them subsequently released into the community. It is still early days but the initial signs have been very positive indeed. The rate of reoffending has been reduced to less than 20 per cent, which compares to a national average of juvenile reoffending of 78 per cent. In addition, security incidents in this unit are 90 per cent lower than in other units in Feltham. The success of this project is such that similar projects are being rolled out to other young offender institutions and I hope that the money will be found to continue this excellent scheme.

However, that is not the only good work being done in London. I should like to pay particular tribute to other schemes that help prevent young people offending in the first place, in particular the superb work being done by Decima Francis of the From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation and Camila Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company. Both of these truly remarkable women do extraordinary work providing help and support to some of the most vulnerable young people in our society.

However, the good work being done at Feltham and elsewhere in London will be undermined if unnecessary barriers to ex-offenders entering the labour market are not removed. Fortunately, government policy is moving in the right direction. The Green Paper on the criminal justice system published last month states:

“The … way to improve public safety and reduce the number of victims is to reform offenders to reduce reoffending”.

I am delighted that Project Daedalus is singled out for praise in the Green Paper.

It is essential that we do much more to rehabilitate young offenders, in particular by training and equipping them to enter the labour market and by removing discriminatory barriers to employment. Of course this is not the complete solution to the problem of crime and reoffending, but it is vital if we are to break the cycle of reoffending which a policy of imprisoning offenders without rehabilitation does absolutely nothing to address. Those and many other issues are some of the things that I look forward to pursuing in your Lordships’ House.

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