Introducing Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform

Prisoners get a bad rap. They get pushed around by politicians because it is politically popular to beat them with a rolled-up copy of the daily.

Just because this happens doesn’t mean it is okay. In fact, it is a fundamental abdication of our moral duty not to stand up for the human rights of our fellow human beings.

As such I been conducting some informal polling within the Young Liberals and by a landslide of 92% in favour, 8% opposing, they backed prisoner voting. Further questioning of the group indicated a 96% approval for the establishment of Prisoner-Prison councils. Campaigning for such reforms would be a great step forward for the Liberal Democrats and a great step forward for our nation.

Along with several other party members we have launched the new group “Liberal Democrats for Prison Reform”. Over the coming months we intend to launch a range of policy ideas and speak to prisoner advocacy groups to establish a range of liberally minded reforms to help cut reoffending rates and help the prison population become beneficial members of society upon their release.

If you wish to get updates from us please follow us on Twitter @LD4PrisonReform or contact our me on [email protected]

* Callum Robertson is the Lib Dem Candidate for Essex Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner. In his day job, he works for a multi-national human rights NGO as an Advocacy Officer. Read about his plans for Essex here.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • As a longstanding member of The Howard League, I applaud this development

  • Ruth Bright 4th Jan '18 - 11:17am

    Good for you Callum. What is interesting too is how the stigma of prison can be passed down. As a parliamentary candidate I found that people were fine if I talked about prison reform in the abstract but were visibly shocked if I said I was the daughter of a prisoner!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Jan '18 - 12:33pm

    Is there a Liberal Democrats for victims of crime, doubt it.

    Until then, no, no, no.

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Jan '18 - 1:01pm

    Good. As part of a charity for homeless people my husband also ran a house for ex prisoners where they received support to link into services available to them and to avoid recidivism. Obviously there is the link between mental health problems and the prison population too. A lot of campaigning work to be done. Good luck!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Jan '18 - 1:42pm

    This is admirable if you start with the view all who are guilty of any crime should be in prison.

    If as we think, you see that only those more serious offenders ought to be in jail with community sentences for low level offenders who have not committed violent or other awful acts, those in a more sensible prison regime, should not need advocates, but punishment, and work and making up in effort and service, to the victim.

    John Stuart Mill favoured the death penalty, for murder at a time many guilty of other less serious offences were given capital punishment as well.

    A loss of liberty , today, rather than this ultimate punishment , means , however, unless those who love liberty for the decent or desperate, punish those who do hideous and unjustifiable harm, to the vulnerable ,are punished severely, with loss of liberty, we have no moral or Liberal or democratic basis for our justice at all, but a system, as now, that rewards those who step on the less powerful, whether economy as the terrain, or criminality.

  • A good initiative young Callum – but I suggest you also liaise with the Howard League for Penal Reform.

    The Howard League | Home The Howard League for Penal Reform – Less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison.

    You may also find the Scottish Government’s work on Restorative Justice of interest – something Lord Jeremy Purvis was trying to pursue when he was a Lib Dem MSP..

    Restorative Justice Processes – Restorative Justice Scotland

  • For very informed advice on the subject might I suggest you consult with The Prison Governors Association.

  • Peter Martin 4th Jan '18 - 2:29pm

    We also should bear in mind that not all prisoners are actually guilty. Once convicted on what can be very questionable evidence it is extremely difficult to get a guilty verdict overturned. The rate of referral to the Court of Appeal from the Criminal Cases Review Commission is now less than 1%.

    This is one shocking example of what passes for Forensic evidence in our legal system and which can have devastating consequences for an innocent individual.

  • J.S. Mill’s views on the death penalty indicate that he is not infallible and he does not necessarily provide an automatic blue print for modern Liberalism in 2018. Mill was a man of his time. I heard plenty of Tories mouthing what he said during the abolition debates in the 1960’s.

    I much prefer Dickens’ more generous approach. His dissection of Gradgrind’s utilitarianism in ‘Hard Times’ is compelling.

  • The whole justice system is not fit for purpose and requires a radical (and Liberal) overhaul.

    Take for example the courses inside are difficult to run when only certain wings are allowed to education on each day, people are transferred in and out of prisons daily. Entry level courses do not qualify people for jobs therefore are not considered valid by employers who look for Level 3 or practical experience. Higher level courses are inaccessible as computers/internet is not allowed for people to access Open University or other online courses.

    The endemic drug use in prison is a result of not enough productive activity and boredom. Drug use provides a release or escape to speed the time inside.

    The media make a big deal out of mobile phones inside yet the reality is a lack of opportunity for people to make calls to families – when you are locked up at 4pm when your child is on their way home from school you need to be able to maintain that contact with your family.

    When someone leaves prison and has finished their sentence, that they have to disclose this on application forms many years after leaving puts them at an unfair disadvantage in the labour market.

    11 million people in this country have a criminal record. I look forward to seeing more Liberal policies to support these people contribute to society.

  • Robert Irwin 4th Jan '18 - 5:40pm

    As one who worked in Cat-B and Cat-C jails for nine years, I disagree that prisoners should get the vote. Perhaps that sounds Illiberal. Yet my Liberalism includes the value that one should be a responsible citizen. If one breaches that duty of responsibility to one’s fellows citizens and the state, one should lose some rights for a while.
    There are prisoner-prison councils already. I sat on some of these. The prisoner representatives are elected by their wing and can address the Govering Governor and Senior Management Team.
    I would, however, be glad to hear your ideas on cutting reoffending rates.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Jan '18 - 10:46pm

    David, my example of John Stuart Mill was not in agreement with the greatest of Liberals of another era, but as proof that no one view is the correct or more Liberal view. To some the word means soft. It means open minded and flexible to me but never softer than any other stance on issues of good vs evil. Otherwise I am a nineteenth early twentieth century one, not in favour of capital punishment, in favour of decency not degeneracy when it comes to free people treating those every so often one finds vulnerable, in a vile way.

    Today a multiple rapist has gone free , a decade in jail. Disgrace.

    I want reform. I want the decent low petty primarily wayward and not dangerous transgressors given non custodial strict long community service.

    I want the wicked in jail for years working full time to repay the victim.

    We need a Liberalism that is , as the very sensible David Steel called his book, David against Goliath.

    Violent premeditated criminals are not your name sake.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Jan '18 - 11:32am

    Prisons are communities and as such should have processes so grievances can be aired and consultations performed. Treating prisoners with respect would do much to make them valued members of society upon their release. Many should not be there anyway and their treatment should reflect that.

  • OnceALibDem 5th Jan '18 - 3:18pm

    Well in less than 10 years the Prison system has changed John Worboys from someone who was a “repetitive predatory sexual offender” who showed a “significant degree of sexual deviance” to someoone who the Parole Board is “confident” will not reoffend.

    Obviously our Prison System is doing an outstanding job of rehabilitating offenders.

  • suzanne Fletcher 5th Jan '18 - 3:23pm

    well done on tackling this issue.
    Liberal Democrats for Seekers of Sanctuary campaign against indefinite detention for immigration purposes, and there are some strands that come together – not least the huge amount of money that could be saved by ending this system, that could be invested in making prisons better places and more effective.
    We have made good relationships with non party groups in our campaigns, and advice for you to do similar is good.
    Have a look at our website and get in touch if you want to.

  • suzanne Fletcher 5th Jan '18 - 4:36pm

    I’ve just been sent this, which is about supporting women in prisons. At the end there is a list of practical things to send that many have lurking around at home – including pics from Christmas cards.

  • I am totally against prisoners being given the right to vote. As someone who was victim of sexual abuse and is living with a life sentence as a consequence of that abuse..
    My abuser was sent to jail for 8 years.
    Should he have retained the right to vote?? Hell No

    Why should someone who has committed the most heinous of crimes be given a right to vote which could include social policies that could have an effect me?
    Why should a person retain that privilege?

    For many years I struggled to leave my bedroom, let alone engage in politics and what is going on in the outside world.
    Being a victim of one of the most serious of crimes deprived me of even the most basics in life that we take for granted.

    Criminals lose that right to vote for a reason.

  • Prisoners do not have to pay for accommodation, Utilities, their meals, basic toiletries or even clothing if required
    Prisoners can earn between £10 and £20 a week and they can be sent more money by friends and family to their accounts
    Prisoners are able to spend per week is £25.50 on “extras”
    Prisoner only has to pay £1 a week for the privilege of watching a TV,
    Prisoners are able to select from a choice of 5 meals from a menu every lunch time and dinner time.
    Prisoners have access to Gym classes, sports equipment, Pool tables etc.

    Now compare all that to a potential victim who might be struggling on £110 Employment and Support Allowance due to psychological effects of crime.
    Out of their £110, they have to contribute towards their rent, council tax, pay for their utilities, TV Licence, Food / Clothing / Personal Hygiene products to name but a few.
    They don’t have the luxury of being able to spend £25.50 a week on “extra’s” or go to the gym or play snooker.
    I would suggest that efforts would be far better placed fighting for the human rights and liberty of the victims of crime who struggle to partake in society after being victims of crime, that where the injustice lies, Not fighting for prisoners “rights to vote”

  • Prisoners pay for those things with their liberty.

  • care to elaborate on that James?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Jan '18 - 2:11am


    We agree and disagree yet have a mutual liking and understanding.

    Here we are brothers. The word Liberal is utilised too much by this party with no Democrat added. The settled will of the people on Brexit might change. That on rapists, murderers and those who are the purveyors of evil , never has nor shall. We need a policy that pleads for the victim , the vulnerable. All the women’s rights campaigners on the centre left and left have a lot to say on cat calling and so called modern hate crimes as they are now thought , and wolf whistles, and little about serial rapists and child molesters who ruin lives, getting sentences like the one the papers are correctly saying is outrageous. I want a democratic Liberal society , one in which we get the vote, to vote no, to parole for some who should remain in the jail of their own doing. Unaccountable supposed justice by a trio of parole board , is the norm. We need these to be accountable. Liberalism without individual responsibility is libertarian self indulgence. Blair was many things as pm, good and bad. I miss him on crime.

  • The way we treat prisoners should not be linked to the lack of assistance we give to the victims of crimes. As liberals we must give tailored assistance to everyone who has been a victim of a crime to ensure they lead fulfilling lives afterwards. We must have policies to provide this.

    It seems that in England and Wales a person who is sentenced to life in prison can be paroled after 15 years. I don’t want us to have a system like the USA with their large number of prisoners serving very long sentences with little hope of ever getting out of prison. I expect a case could be made to increase our 15 years to say 20 or 25 years. Then we could increase sentences for other offences in line with these increases. As liberals we believe that most people can change and if we can give them the right assistance they will not offend again.

    As liberals we believe that every human being is of equal worth. We believe that the removal of a person from society is the correct penalty for lots of crimes, but we don’t think they should live in inhuman conditions. As liberals we should believe that even prisoners no matter what their crime should be treated with dignity.

    If reoffending rates are increasing then we need to reform what goes on in prison to reduce them. One of the purposes of the criminal justice system is to reform the offender so they don’t reoffend.

  • Katharine Pindar 6th Jan '18 - 7:54pm

    @ Michael BG. I agree, I think that is excellent liberal thinking, Michael.

  • @Lorenzo

    I enjoyed your comments and i especially enjoyed everything you had to say on another thread


    I agree with your 3rd Paragraph of course.

    But Prisoner Voting is a huge NO NO.

    Life should mean life imprisonment otherwise the wording is pointless and we might as well do away with the tariff and have just minimum sentence without parole. All Murders and Paedophilia cases should attract a life sentence in my opinion. There are exceptions of course for people who commit offences as minors, but if you commit one of the most heinous crimes as an adult, you should pay the ultimate price.

    Yes Prisons are in need of major reforms and are clearly failing judged by the re offending rates,there needs to be better education, access to mental health services, better support upon release, no person should ever leave prison without proper resources. A place to Stay be that own home / Family / Hostel, welfare benefits should already be in place for when a prisoner is released. One to One Support, be registered with a GP, mental health services etc.
    But then Prisons and probation services also need to be brought back fully into the Public sector. Prison Officer numbers and pay needs to be increased drastically and better control and authority over prisoners is a must.

    There is a reason why prison is not acting as a deterrent and that is because the complete lack of authority and discipline.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Jan '18 - 9:25pm


    Appreciate your commentary and input.

  • @ Katharine Pindar

    Thank you for your kind comment of 7.54pm on Saturday.

    @ Matt

    I am glad you support major prison reform even if you do not agree parole should be available to all prisoners if they can be reformed. I understand why you hold your position. Thank you for sharing.

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