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Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, does the Minister agree that telling Mr Putin and Russia not to become involved in Ukraine and at the same time encouraging Poland and the European Union to get involved in Ukraine poses a question of double standards by the Government? Would
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it not be better that the support given to the elections in Ukraine should come from institutions such as the Council of Europe, of which Ukraine is a member?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords. It is not a question of double standards at all. The Russians decided to make a declaration about the election in Ukraine at a time when it was obvious that there was considerable anxiety and unrest in Ukraine about the fairness of the elections and before the OSCE had had an opportunity to deliver its opinion. Others, including the United Kingdom, waited for the situation to clarify and to hear what the OSCE had to say. At that point, when the elections had been declared not to have been free and fair, there were interventions from the EU and others. Those interventions were of a very different nature and based on very different evidence.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision about succession to the Crown and about royal marriages. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.(Lord Dubs.)
On Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Amos, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Baroness Linklater of Butterstone set down for today shall be limited to four hours.(Lord Grocott.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone rose to call attention to the case for wider community involvement in determining policies relevant to crime prevention, alternatives to prison and the rehabilitation of offenders, in the interests of public confidence in the criminal justice system; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to call attention to a subject which, in all its complexity, is at the front of the minds of all of us concerned with the quality of life in this country, and as it relates to criminal justice matters in particular.
What lies at its heart is the issue of public confidence in what our criminal justice system is doing to prevent crime, to punish or deal with offenders and, ultimately, to make our country a safe and secure place in which we
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can all live in peace of mind. Confidence is a state of mind which underpins much of what we do and think, and if damaged can be difficult to restorewhich is our problem today. But it is vital to a balanced, rational approach to most aspects of life, and none more so than to criminal justice.
I declare an interest as chairman for the past four years of an initiative called "Rethinking Crime and Punishment", which was funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundationof which I am a trusteeand has just published its findings. It was set up because of trustees' concerns that what we are doing in this country to those who break the law has got worryingly out of kilter with what is balanced or rational, to the extent that we are now imprisoning more of our citizens per head of population than any other country in western Europe44 per cent more than Germany, 52 per cent more than Francewhile levels of most crime are dropping and the numbers coming before the courts are stable. Worse still, little is being achieved in reducing reoffending, with reconviction rates as high as 80 per cent for the youngest offenders, or even in increasing a sense of security or safety in our communities. We seem to be running ever faster in our use of custody only to be standing still, or indeed falling back, in achieving so little of desired outcomes.
Public confidence is rooted in perceptions of what is going on, and what has become clear is that there is a gap between what the public perceive and the reality in relation to crime. The British Crime Survey earlier this year showed that two-thirds of the public thought that crime had risen a lot over the past year, when in fact it was dropping, and that sentencing was thought to be less tough than in fact it is. That is compounded by the perception of many politicians and sentencers, largely mediated through the press, that what the public want is an ever tougher prison-based approach. However, that is equally removed from reality, as the MORI poll we commissioned clearly demonstrates.
Indeed, that is one of the most interesting findings in the array of more than 60 projects that we have commissioned over the past four years. What has emerged is that the public are much less retributive than is often thought to be the case and prison is not favoured as a means of reducing crime or of changing people for the better. As far as young offenders are concerned, the poll showed that prevention, rehabilitation and education are given a much higher priority than prison. Equally, and unsurprisingly, the public do want wrongdoers to be punished and to make reparationas an analysis undertaken for RCP by Strathclyde University showsand they would prefer tougher community penalties that make offenders pay back and learn a lesson, coupled with more prevention.
It must be said that to punish with imprisonment those who are severely mentally ill, who have addiction problems or a significant learning difficultyas many thousands of people in prison dobut who often receive little or no appropriate treatment, is as pointless as punishing people for the colour of their hair. Noble Lords may have seen the programme on Channel 4 this week, or read the deeply disturbing reports in the Guardian in the past three days, and
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realised that not only is that the case, but that we are asking our wildly overstretched prison services to perform impossible miracles. That is simply unacceptable.
The tragedy is that in the minds of many sentencers, politicians, policy makers and the press, toughness and prison have become synonymous and toughness is the key performance indicator. How often has someone left court with a community sentence but been described in the newspapers as "walking free"? Toughness, or prison, seems to be an end in itself, and the possibilities offered by the alternatives are all too often believed to be inadequate, or are ignored.
How, therefore, do we restore confidence in the system? The evidence is that more knowledge and direct involvement in the process can go a long way towards achieving that, for fear is rooted in ignorance. When the public, politicians and sentencers are better informed, it means that policies and practice, and rhetoric and reality, can come closer together, and the public can get a system that they actually want. A major public education programme is necessary, and RCP has funded several initiatives as examples of that.
It is widely accepted in theory by politicians and sentencers alike that prison should only ever be used as a last resort, and only for those from whom we need to be protected because of the nature of their offending. They also accept that short sentences, in particular, are a complete waste of the country's resources; do nothing for victims; have minimal impact on public safety; have little or no effect on offending behaviour; and further damage the chances of prisoners and their families taking their places as contributing members of society. We should be pushing at an open door, yet the gap between rhetoric and reality remains wide.
One overarching theme which emerged from the findings of RCP was that the way to rebuild confidence is to engage the public more in the criminal justice process at many levels, particularly in the work done by offenders in local communities. Our system does not, as yet, encourage much involvement. How many citizens have ever visited their local prison, let alone engaged with offenders? There is evidence that, given the opportunity, people would welcome it.
The youth offender panels, which were set up by the Youth Justice Board and decide what sort of community sentence or unpaid work should be carried out by first-time young offenders, consist of 5,000 volunteers, a third of whom had never volunteered for anything before. People wanted to be involved. A survey done for us by Ecotec found that large numbers of people were interested in volunteering to help with the education of young offenders. If knowledge promotes understanding, so involvement bestows empowerment.
An opinion poll by MORI done for RCP found that two-thirds of people said that they would be interested in having a say in the kind of work done in their locality, and one-third said that they were very interested. Eight million hours are currently spent on community penalties across the country. How much are any of us aware of what is being done? One
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example is Donna's Dream House in Blackpool, where 100 offenders on community punishment orders spent six months and 4,000 hours of unpaid work to transform a crack den into a holiday home for terminally ill children. As a result, many lives have been changed, including those of several offenders who got jobs in the building trade and others who stayed on to volunteer. That project is well known and is supported by the local community, and a fine example it is.
When local people can see what is going on as a payback to their community and play a much bigger part in the decision making, how much more effective is the reparation and the promotion of understanding and confidence in the system? Reparation through the restorative justice process, with its capacity to bring closure for victims and greater understanding to offenders of the consequences of their actions, must also be developed.
We also commissioned an independent inquiry on alternatives to prison, led by the distinguished retired judge, Lord Coulsfield. He also concluded that community penalties and programmes should be delivered locally, that they should be properly targeted and that the local community should be much more closely involved in their delivery. Significantly, he recommended that judges and magistrates should be required to have ongoing training and first-hand knowledge of the programmes and projects in their jurisdictions, and should have regular feedback on their effectiveness. He also recommended that those receiving community sentences should be "sent down" like those getting custodial sentences, so that the message goes out that they are not being acquitted.
Sentencers are at the heart of the whole process and should engage with the outcomes of the decisions they make. That will, in turn, affect enormously the quality of their decision making. Clearly, there is still much to be done in the expansion and quality of community-based programmes, where NOMS will have a key role, and if sentencers get closer to them, they too will have an impact on delivery. There are significant resource implications, and here lies the real challenge to the Governmentwhether there is the political will to take this forward.
There is ample evidence that effective projects can significantly reduce crime. The Staffordshire prolific offenders project is one involving probation, police, the National Health Service, a housing association and a local college. It addressed the inter-relationship of drugs and crime, and involved treatment, job training and education as well as increased police surveillance. The outcome from the evaluation was that there was a 53 per cent drop in reoffending, an estimated 4,000 crimes were prevented, and there was a saving of £5.5 million. By any standard that is an impressive result.
I have also met those involved in a similar scheme in Avon and Somerset which has had similarly good results and has been distinguished by the enormous enthusiasm and satisfaction of all those working together on an inter-agency basis. It is yet another positive dimension of these projects.
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What the public clearly said in the polls was that they place the highest priority on prevention, and that the keys to reducing crime, and the three highest priorities, were better parenting, more police and better education. Prison was at the bottom of the list. In other words, the issues reach out and become the responsibility of all of us, not only of those in the criminal justice box.
The preference for dealing with offenders is that they should be made to pay back to the community, make amends to victims where appropriate and demonstrate that a lesson has been learnt. There is not much visible payback possible from a prison cell. Punishment can take a variety of forms, and being challenged to change your ways and even the people you knowif your life has been peopled by other drug users, for examplecan be the hardest of the lot. It really is the case that challenge of that kind in the community is absolutely not a soft option. Prison is, since it removes from people any responsibility or decision over their own life.
Can the Minister confirm whether he agrees that the key to community confidence is greater knowledge and involvement, and, if so, how the Government plan to take this forward? Can he also tell the House what plans there are to develop the visibility, effectiveness and availability of appropriate community-based penalties? Can he reassure the House that if the public, as the studies show, really are not as retributive as many have supposed, the Government can shift away from a toughness that equates to prison to a response based more on reparation and payback to the community and the victim? Do they have the political will?
I believe that we all want a system which actively reduces reoffending and treats as well as punishes so that we can at last move forwards towards a safer society in which all our citizens can be free from crime and its causes. I beg to move for Papers.
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