In the continuing aftermath of last month’s riots, which saw most of us glued to our television screens in absolute horror as we saw shops looted, homes burnt and streets in chaos, the debate about what should happen to those responsible for the unrest goes on. With the Prime Minister claiming it has nothing to do with poverty but rather with Britain’s broken society, the Justice Secretary calling for tougher sentences to ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice, and some campaigners arguing that those involved are being used as political pawns in a bigger argument, the way forward remains unclear.
Writing in the Guardian today, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke admitted that he was shocked to his core as he watched the riot scenes unfold across the country. He also revealed that 75% of the rioters had previous criminal convictions which, in his opinion, reveals a failure of the Criminal Justice System to prevent reoffending. Commending the police and court services for their commitment during the rioting, particularly for the overtime they put in to police the streets, keep courts open all night and clear the backlog of court cases for those arrested, he also reiterated the praise that should be due to the independent judiciary who have handed out sentences to make sure that those responsible for ruining homes and livelihoods are made to pay for their crimes. The sentences passed for some of the rioters have been the subject of much debate, but regardless of what one thinks of sentencing responses, the riots have uncovered bigger causes of crime which need to be addressed. In his article in the Guardian, Clarke argues that there is a ‘feral underclass’ which is cut off from the rest of society except in its materialism, responsible for this criminality whose values need to be realigned with society at large.
For the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), this means refocusing upon the need to reduce reoffending. Had the 75% of those with previous criminal records convicted of the riots been properly rehabilitated during their first sentence inside a prison, they arguably would not have been involved with the disturbances that shook communities. Since becoming Justice Secretary, Clarke has been committed to ensuring that offenders are brought to justice using sentences that are most likely to rehabilitate and reduce reoffending, which for some means tougher community sentences instead of custodial sentences. Clarke has reiterated his commitment to making prisons places of hard work so that offenders are prepared for the outside while they are in prison, robustly addressing the drug culture that infects the prison system, and making community sentences tougher so that the public accept them as appropriate punishments rather than merely a soft option to reduce spending and prison numbers. To deliver these changes, the MOJ is engaging community and voluntary organisations, as well as the private sector, as partners which will be paid according to their results for reducing reoffending rates of those they work with.
Clarke also argues that not only does the way prisons work need to change, but post-release support to make sure that ex-offenders have a job, a home, and a strong family network is key to reducing reoffending. To tackle these root causes of crime, according to Clarke, it requires the whole of Whitehall to not only tackle the economic deficit but the social deficit responsible for the anarchy seen on our streets over the summer.
Speaking in response to the Justice Secretary’s article, Daylight’s CEO Rev. Dr. John Scott commented, ‘Ken Clarke is absolutely right that to really address the causes of the riots, we need to look at the history of those responsible. If three quarters of the perpetrators have a previous criminal record then it reveals a severe problem within the criminal justice system to rehabilitate offenders. Past punishments have clearly failed to help an ex-offender turn their life around – there needs to be a renewed focus upon reducing reoffending so that ex-offenders can rebuild their lives and make a positive contribution to society. This includes rebuilding a family network, finding work to increase independence and self esteem, tackling addictions, and finding a home. Without this post-release support, many will continue to fall through the net and end up back on the conveyor belt to crime. Daylight’s work with ex-offenders aims to address this as our volunteers meet ex-offenders at the prison gate, help them find a home, provide help for completing benefits forms and job applications, support them as they re-establish family connections if possible, and help them access local service providers to tackle addictions or health problems. We welcome the MOJ’s renewed commitment to address the problem of reoffending but there is a lot of work to do and there needs to be a culture change across Whitehall reflecting this commitment so that whilst those who commit crimes should be punished through the courts, sentences are used to rehabilitate over the long-term rather than meet short-term political objectives’.
Daylight works across the UK with prisoners during their sentence and ex-offenders reintegrating into a local community after release to help them rebuild their lives, access the support they need to avoid reoffending and make a positive contribution to society.
Notes to editors
- To read Ken Clarke’s full article in The Guardian visit: The Guardian’s website
- Daylight is a Christian organisation, set up in June 2004, to support offenders during their sentence in prisons across the UK and to offer practical support to ex-offenders after their release as they reintegrate into a local community to reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
- For more information on Daylight’s national, regional and local work, visit our website www.daylightcpt.org
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