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April 20, 2014

Is Labour radical enough on criminal justice?

Labour has published a policy paper on criminal justice (and other issues) for consultation with their members.  It’s like the curate’s egg – good in parts.  But I think they are still lacking a strong narrative on crime and justice.

The consultation covers anti-social behaviour (ASB) and criminal justice.   On ASB it says this government has made it harder to tackle ASB and that they will give the police the tools they need to take action to combat ASB.  I’m not sure the police need any more tools, given that the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act for the most part just tidies up previous (New Labour) legislation, and definitely doesn’t weaken it.  On criminal justice, the consultation suggests that “perpetrators of serious and violent crimes are increasingly being served with community resolutions or given cautions” but does not acknowledge that this practice has given police discretion and has been implemented in parallel with (and probably linked to) a dramatic fall in crime.  In fact this huge fall in crime is not mentioned anywhere.

Victims are centre stage, and a commitment to a Victims’ Law which “will give victims of crime new entitlements to minimum standards of service as well as the ability to hold those services to account when standards are not met”.  Victims are not treated well by the system and should get better service, but ultimately current and potential victims will be best served by reducing offending and re-offending.  And it is here that the big ideas are missing.  If a future Labour government is to reduce ASB and crime, they need to meet the health, employment and welfare needs of offenders.  And they will only be able to do this by getting non criminal justice agencies involved.  The solutions to reducing crime lie outside the criminal justice system.  But this paper neither acknowledges that, not suggests a mechanism whereby the rest of the system can be incentivised to meet the needs of potential, current and ex-offenders.  Labour needs to break down the silos between the shadow departments to find big ideas on crime and ASB.