Police and crime commissioners must be champions of early intervention

PCCs can bring a strategic and long-term view to reducing crime.

"One thousand extra police officers would be great, but one thousand extra health visitors would be clever."

So says former head of homicide in Glasgow, John Carnochan. One of a new smarter breed of top cops. He knows that working with partners to stop crime before it happens is the future for policing. The new police and crime commissioners (PCCs) can be the midwife of this cultural change in policing from late intervention to early intervention.

The police will always have the tasks of reacting to crime and providing a presence in local communities to dampen the fear of crime. But to achieve the sustained prevention and reduction of crime requires a strategy which unites the police with all the agencies, whether public or private or third sector, which tackle the behaviours and lifestyles which generate anti-social behaviour and crime.

The best time to do this is in the first three years of life. This has been common sense wisdom for centuries, and it has been confirmed by a growing body of robust evidence. If a child acquires in the first three years of life a bedrock of basic social and emotional skills he or she has a better chance of making a success in the rest of life, of achieving at school and further education, and in work, in developing good physical and mental health, in finding or creating a stable household and making good lifestyle choices and, above all, in forming relationships and becoming a parent or carer for the next generation. For all of these reasons, a good start in the first three years of life is the best possible method of preventing future criminal behaviour. With the right evidence-based early intervention programmes, local communities can give all local babies and infants the best chance of getting that good start.

That was the central message of two reports I wrote for the government on early intervention. That is why I wrote to all police and crime commissioner candidates challenging them to adopt early intervention policies as their "unique selling point" in their relationship with the police. Instead of treading on operational toes, PCCs can bring a strategic and long-term view to reducing crime which police officers, victims and taxpayers will welcome.

PCCs will be perfectly positioned to build the strong partnerships with health, education and third sector and explore the role of evidenced based programmes, social finance and payment-by-results in reducing crime. We pioneered this approach with the police and other partners in developing Nottingham as the first "Early Intervention City". Here it was enlightened, forward-planning senior police officers who became the driving force of the new partnership.

The PCCs should follow in the footsteps of Sir Robert Peel who wisely put preventing crime first even ahead of catching offenders.  With the right early intervention policies, we can forestall many of the mental and social problems which are factors in generating anti-social behaviour and crime later in life.  Early intervention has the ability to break the cycle of dysfunction which can turn families into repeat offenders.  It can do this much more cheaply and reliably than intervening later, and generate lasting savings for local budgets and lasting gains in the quality of life for local neighbourhoods.

PCCs should use early intervention to attack the causes of crime at the source and in so doing unlocks with tiny investments a huge new stream of money. We are already seeing payback from investment in social and emotional programmes. Those involving young offenders are massively reducing costly reoffending. These programmes are also the pioneers of social finance and innovative Bond issues in Peterborough and Doncaster prisons. I was recently in New York, where the Deputy Mayor make an innovative agreement  with Goldman Sachs and a Social and Emotional Development provider. This has reduced recidivism in 16-18 year olds, generated a profit for Goldmans and may ultimately result in a wing or prison closure. PCCs oversight of policing budgets should include such money saving ideas as standard.

Earlier intervention also has proven results. For example in attaching health visitors to teenage mothers, as we do in Nottingham,  we draw on a 30-year evidence base of reduced crime, better job prospects and educational achievement.

If PCCs use their position creatively to become champions of early intervention, to argue for effective crime reduction programmes that make us safer and return money to the taxpayer, then all those voting today will be voting for a better tomorrow.

The first-ever police and crime commissioner elections will take place in 41 police authority areas in England and Wales today. Photograph: Getty Images.

Graham Allen is Labour MP for Nottingham North.

A woman in an Indian surrogacy hostel. Photo: Getty
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The Handmaid's Tale has already come true - just not for white western women

Why, if the fate of the fictional Offred is so horrifying, is the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels causing so little outrage?

When anti-choice Republican Justin Humphrey referred to pregnant women as “hosts”, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, whether everything had got “a bit Handmaid’s Tale.”

I’m not alone in having had this thought. Since Donald Trump won the US election, sales of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel have spiked and we’ve seen a plethora of articles telling us how “eerily relevant [it] is to our current political landscape.” In an interview during Cuba’s international book fair, Atwood herself said she believes the recent “bubbling up” of regressive attitudes towards women is linked to The Handmaid’s Tale’s current success: “It’s back to 17th-century puritan values of New England at that time in which women were pretty low on the hierarchy … you can think you are being a liberal democracy but then — bang — you’re Hitler’s Germany.”

Scary stuff. Still, at least most present-day readers can reassure themselves that they’ve not arrived in the Republic of Gilead just yet.

For those who have not yet read it, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred, who lives under a theocratic dictatorship in what used to be the United States of America. White, middle-class and college-educated, Offred once enjoyed a significant degree of privilege, but now belongs to a class of women whose sole purpose is to gestate offspring for high-status couples. Much of the shock value of the story comes from the contrast between Offred’s former life – in which she had a name of her own - and her present-day existence. If this can happen to someone like Offred, it is suggested, surely it can happen to any of us.

Or so that is what a white, middle-class reader – a reader like me – might tell herself. Recently I’ve started to wonder whether that’s strictly true. It can be reassuring to stick to one narrative, one type of baddie – the religious puritan, the pussy-grabbing president, the woman-hating Right. But what if it’s more complicated than that? There’s something about the current wallowing in Atwood’s vision that strikes me as, if not self-indulgent, then at the very least naive.

In 1985, the same year The Handmaid’s Tale was published, Gina Correa published The Mother Machine. This was not a work of dystopian fiction, but a feminist analysis of the impact of reproductive technologies on women’s liberties. Even so, there are times when it sounds positively Handmaid’s Tale-esque:

“Once embryo transfer technology is developed, the surrogate industry could look for breeders – not only in poverty-stricken parts of the United States, but in the Third World as well. There, perhaps, one tenth of the current fee could be paid to women”

Perhaps, at the time her book was written, Correa’s imaginings sounded every bit as dark and outlandish as Atwood’s. And yet she has been proved right. Today there are parts of the world in which renting the womb of a poor woman is indeed ten times cheaper than in the US. The choice of wealthy white couples to implant embryos in the bodies of brown women is seen, not as colonialist exploitation, but as a neutral consumer choice. I can’t help wondering why, if the fate of the fictional Offred is so horrifying to western feminists today, the fate of real-life women in surrogacy hostels is causing so little outrage.

I suppose the main argument of these feminists would be that real-life women choose to be surrogates, whereas Offred does not. But is the distinction so clear? If Offred refuses to work as a handmaid, she may be sent to the Colonies, where life expectancy is short. Yet even this is a choice of sorts. As she herself notes, “nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. There wasn't a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose.” In the real world, grinding poverty drives women of colour to gestate the babies of the wealthy. As one Indian surrogate tells interviewer Seemi Pasha, “Why would I be a surrogate for someone else if I don't need the money? Why would I make myself go through this pain?"

None of the feminists who expressed shock at Justin Humphrey referring to pregnant women as “hosts” have, as far as I am aware, expressed the same horror at surrogacy agencies using the exact same term. As Dorothy Roberts wrote in Killing The Black Body, the notion of reproductive liberty remains “primarily concerned with the interests of white, middle-class women” and  “focused on the right to abortion.” The right not just to decide if and when to have children, but to have children of one’s own – something women of colour have frequently been denied – can be of little interest of those who have never really feared losing it (hence the cloth-eared response of many white women to Beyoncè’s Grammy performance).

As Roberts notes, “reproductive liberty must encompass more than the protection of an individual woman’s choice to end her pregnancy”:

“It must encompass the full range of procreative activities, including the ability to bear a child, and it must acknowledge that we make reproductive decisions within a social context, including inequalities of wealth and power. Reproductive freedom is a matter of social justice, not individual choice.”

It’s easy to mock the pretensions to pro-life piety of a pussy-grabbing president. But what about the white liberal left’s insistence that criticising the global trade in sexual and gestational services is “telling a women what she can and cannot do with her body” and as such is illiberal and wrong? “Individual choice” can be every bit as much of a false, woman-hating god as the one worshipped by the likes of Humphrey and Trump.

One of the most distressing scenes in The Handmaid’s Tale takes place when Janine/Ofwarren has just given birth and has her child taken from her:

“We stand between Janine and the bed, so she won’t have to see this. Someone gives her a drink of grape juice. I hope there’s wine in it, she’s still having the pains, for the afterbirth, she’s crying helplessly, burnt-out miserable tears.”

Right now there are women suffering in just this way. Only they’re probably not white, nor middle-class, nor sitting in a twee white bedroom in Middle America. Oh, and they’re not fictional, either.

The dystopian predictions of 1985 have already come true. It’s just that women like me didn’t notice until we started to be called “hosts”, too.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.