We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Nick Clegg's speech on Liberal Democrat justice policy

February 23, 2015 12:01 AM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

In a speech on Liberal Democrat justice policy Nick Clegg will say that a rising prison population is a sign of "failure not success."

Nick will make the case that too many abused and vulnerable women, drug addicts and people with mental health problems are currently locked up behind bars.

Nick will call for an evidence-based approach to do "what works" to cut crime, not just "to sound tough" or "play to the gallery."

In his speech will cite a range of policies implemented by Liberal Democrats in Government to cut re-offending, halve the number of young offenders in custody and allow female offenders to be held in custody closer to their homes and families.

Nick will also outline a number of Liberal Democrat proposals to reduce re-offending, divert people with drug and mental health problems away from the criminal justice system and reduce the number of women behind bars.

A full transcript of Nick's speech is below.

When a police officer investigates a crime, they examine the evidence.

When a prosecutor is building a case, they examine the evidence.

When a jury decides whether someone is innocent or guilty, they examine the evidence.

But when a politician bangs their fist on the lectern and announces that 'prison works' and that we need to lock up more and more people for more and more time, are they following the evidence?

We all want dangerous people off the street. We all want hardened criminals to pay for their actions.

That means, for tens of thousands of criminals, prison is the answer.

But it is not the answer for every offender.

There are more than 85,000 people in prison in England and Wales today. In 1994, there were fewer than 49,000.

I don't believe there are 36,000 more dangerous people now than then. We have not become a more vicious or sinister society.

If you want to understand who these people are, look at the facts.

Most prisoners serve short sentences.

Nearly half say they have no qualifications.

A quarter were taken into care as a child.

Two thirds have tried class A drugs. A third of male and two thirds of female prisoners admitted to committing their crimes to get money to buy drugs.

The number of women in prison has doubled since the mid-90s, leaving thousands of children separated from their mothers every year.

Half of those women have suffered domestic abuse and one in three has suffered sexual abuse.

Half suffer from anxiety or depression and a quarter have reported symptoms of psychosis.

Nearly half of all women prisoners, and one in five men, have tried to kill themselves at some point in their lives.

Abused and vulnerable women. People with serious mental health issues. Drug users and addicts. All crammed like sardines into crowded prisons.

That is not proof that prison is 'working'. It's a litany of despair.

'Prison works' is a slogan, not a solution.

It is not working when it routinely turns first time offenders into hardened criminals.

Too often, for too many offenders, prison is not the answer.

It is not the answer for every mother left sobbing in her cell.

It is not the answer for every drug addict whose dependency dragged them down.

And it is not the answer for every mentally ill inmate whose problem is health not habit.

Simply locking up more and more people is not a sign of success, it's a sign of failure.

It's easy to sound tough.

It's easy to play to the gallery.

But it is not always that easy to follow the evidence.

We all want the same things:

To feel safe in our homes and communities;

To keep our family, our loved ones and our property protected;

To keep predators and dangerous, violent criminals off the streets;

To support victims of crime and make offenders face up to the wrong they have done;

And to stop people committing crimes in the first place.

You don't do those things just by sounding tough. You do those things by following the evidence of what works.

That's what I believe and that is what has driven Liberal Democrat attitudes and policies on crime and justice for decades.

But if prison doesn't always work, what does?

Preventing offending, tackling its causes, breaking the cycle of crime - these are deeply complex areas that do not easily lend themselves to neat solutions.

Perhaps the biggest success of recent years has been with young offenders, where we have halved the number of young people in custody, thanks to a shift in police behaviour and the great work of Tom McNally and the Youth Justice Board.

We are starting to see the number of women in prison come down too, with the female prison population staying below 4,000 for the last two years.

But there is a lot of work to be done.

That's why I am so grateful to my Liberal Democrat colleague Simon Hughes for his work in the Ministry of Justice with female offenders.

We are keeping women closer to where they will live when they are released, making it easier to maintain contact with their children and families, and helping them to get the skills they need to find a job.

If we can help to prevent the family breakdown so often associated with mothers being parted from their children during a stretch behind bars, then we can help to prevent another known driver of criminality.

The vast majority of offenders - 97% - express a desire to stop offending. Yet 45% of adults are reconvicted within a year of being released.

That's why my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I have focused relentlessly on transforming rehabilitation to try and jam shut that revolving door.

So, for the first time, we have introduced a mandatory requirement for offenders on short sentences of 12 months or less - those most likely to reoffend - to receive targeted support to help turn their lives around when they re-enter society.

That's 45,000 offenders a year who used to be sent back on to the streets with nothing more than a few quid and the clothes on their back, including the vast majority of female offenders. Hopefully from now on that number will be smaller every year.

We are also seeing innovative approaches to those with mental health and drugs problems that are starting to see real success.

A host of liaison and diversion services are now operating across the country, intervening at the early stages when vulnerable offenders are first identified.

They can help them to get suitable support and treatment, and can communicate with courts so that an offender's circumstances are understood when sentenced.

In some cases they are able to divert vulnerable offenders away from the criminal justice system entirely.

These pilots have been so promising that from April this year we will be expanding them to 22 police force areas covering half the population of England.

And today I can announce that if the Liberal Democrats are in Government again we want to see liaison and diversion services rolled out to cover the whole of England by the end of next year.

Through the Mental Health Taskforce, which I set up to bring together ministers from across Government whose departments impact on mental health policy, we are also looking at the use of Mental Health Treatment Requirements, or MHTRs.

These can be given by a court as part of a community sentence so that the offender can receive a course of treatment for their illness.

These have been under-used in recent years, but the evidence from a pilot in Milton Keynes has demonstrated how their use can be increased dramatically. In 2013/14 just one MHTR was made in Milton Keynes and 14 in the wider Thames Valley. But in just six months last year, that number rose to 40.

I want to see these used more widely, diverting more vulnerable people away from prison.

So Norman Lamb will be working with NHS England to encourage Liaison and Diversion areas to learn from Milton Keynes and adopt their model.

We are developing and testing the effectiveness of GPS tagging - a new type of electronic tag that can be much more effective at letting us know exactly where an offender has been at any given time.

That means if an offence takes place, we know if a tagged offender was there.

This has great potential to reduce reoffending and if the evidence bears that out I want to see GPS tagging used much more widely.

Where Liberal Democrats see pockets of success, we want that best practice rolled out across the whole country.

We want to see liaison and diversion services expanded.

We want to extend the role of the Youth Justice Board to everyone aged under 21.

And we would also like it to have the power to commission mental health services as an alternative to custody for troubled young offenders.

The Youth Justice Board has been an instrumental part of our success in reducing the number of young offenders and I want to see the same principles now applied to bringing down the number of women in prison too.

That's why, in Government again, Liberal Democrats will establish a Women's Justice Board.

We will do more to promote restorative justice for children raised in care, so they are not dragged into the criminal justice system for behaviour that, for other children, would have been dealt with in the family home.

We want more prisoners to receive meaningful rehabilitation, with better and earlier education and skills assessment and a focus on making prisons places where lives are turned around, not where criminals are hardened.

And I would like to see more community payback sentences given where, instead of being slung in jail, offenders are made to carry out unpaid work to pay back their community for their crime.

Make no mistake: if you are a dangerous, serious criminal, you're going to jail. You are going to be punished and you are going to serve your time.

But for thousands of vulnerable women, addicts and people with mental health problems, prison isn't working. It's making their problems worse and making us less safe.

When prison doesn't work, society suffers.

We want to end the revolving door that sees offenders leave prison with no help and no hope, only to return to their cell a few weeks later.

We need to end the culture in prisons that makes them colleges of crime where first time offenders become hardened criminals.

We want fewer women behind bars and fewer children growing up in broken homes.

We want to make sure that if your crimes were driven by drug addiction or mental illness, you get the treatment you need to turn your life around.

And if your only crime is possession of drugs for personal use, we want to see you in treatment or education, not a prison cell.

This is not some ideological crusade. The Liberal Democrats want these things because they work, because they will make us safer.

We want a justice system that is based on the same thing that we ask our police officers, prosecutors and juries to base their judgements on: evidence.