Leadership LibLink: Norman Lamb: It’s time to halve the prison population

Earlier this week, Norman Lamb wrote for the Huffington Post outlining a strong, liberal case for putting fewer people in prison. It’s powerful stuff:

There can be no other area of public policy, with the exception of the related issue of drugs reform, where establishment politicians so readily bang the drum for the exact opposite of any evidence-based solution. Our prisons clearly fail to rehabilitate: half of those released reoffend within a year, including six in ten of those on sentences of less than twelve months.

Liberal Democrats must lead the call for drastic and urgent action to reduce crime, protect victims more effectively, help criminals turn their lives around and protect taxpayers money: we must push for a Ministry of Justice target to halve the prison population by 2025.

Maybe we should look at the reasons people commit crime and tackle them, says Norman:

The roll out of the national liaison and diversion service – aimed at getting people who suffer mental ill health, who come into contact with the criminal justice system, into treatment – is world leading. It is a scandal of our time that there are so many people who are in prison largely because of their mental ill health or because they have a learning disability. Simply punishing without providing adequate treatment is wholly counterproductive. Of profound concern is the increase in the number of prisoners who take their own lives. There is an absolute imperative that this is effectively addressed.

We must take the same approach with children and young people who commit crime, treating them as vulnerable people first and foremost. We need a system that recognises that many of these young people themselves come from backgrounds of abuse, neglect and violence – and have not had a good start in life. Putting them in large institutions that differ in no real way from an adult prison is entirely the wrong approach. They are colleges of crime. For the small number of children and young people who truly need incarceration, we must revisit welfare-based approaches like small ‘secure homes’ that focus squarely on their complex welfare needs.

And how does this fit into the Liberal Democrat vision?

Liberal Democrats are at our best when acting as a voice for the voiceless. This includes both communities plagued by criminality – and those who have committed crime. It is my belief that the path to rebuilding our party lies in articulating a clear set of liberal principles in everything we do, so that whether or not people agree with us, they respect our motivations and know where we stand. Through this distinctiveness, we will be able to show millions of people who share our values that they belong in our movement.

You can read the whole article here.

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8 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Jun '15 - 8:15pm

    I thought this was good liberal stuff, except the target seems a bit arbitrary.

    I want votes for prisoners and a bit more compassion, but anyone who is still a clear danger to society should not be let out. Some people live in fear of crime and we need to recognise that too.

    I would also not underestimate the backlash that can happen when people want to spend more money on prisoners. So you need a strong professional case.

  • Nick Bezuidenhout 21st Jun '15 - 8:13am

    Setting a target for the number of prisoners – halving the current number – could be politically as dangerous as the Tories setting a target for reducing net immigration
    In both cases there are factors that are beyond our control, not least of which is the independence of the judiciary in the case of prisoner numbers.
    It would be better to decriminalise certain things, and then set out criteria for who of the remaining criminals should go to prison and who shouldn’t.

  • Jenny Barnes 21st Jun '15 - 9:00am

    Legalise all recreational drugs, and release all prisoners currently held on only drug related charges.
    That should help, at least.

  • @Mr Wallace

    Of course we would, and we did during the election : http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/31/labour-attack-lib-dem-drug-policy-medieval

    The Lib Dems are the only political party in the UK that have seriously attempted to change drugs policy. Whether they should of staked the future of our economy on it when negotiating the coalition agreement is another matter – would you really try to do a deal like that with the tories? It would never have worked, but be in no doubt that the Lib Dems is the UK’s largest political party that supports decriminalisation for users.

    Under a FPTP system CISTA is a wasted vote, you’re simply prolonging prohibition and helping the Tories maintain power.

  • David Evershed 23rd Jun '15 - 7:45pm

    Simplistically, as crime has been reducing for many years now we should expect prisoner numbers to decrease. over time.

    Of course there will be a lag in the reduction because those serving long sentences ten years ago will still be there now.

    Of course it can be argued that it is only the past prison sentences which have deterred criminals and brought about the fall in overall crime levels.

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