Full Transcript | Sadiq Khan | Speech law and order | Fabian Society | 7 March 2011

It's a pleasure to have this opportunity to talk to you in more detail about how I see justice policy today, and how I see the Labour Party's position evolving I am calling this "The Justice Tests" - how we ensure that we are achieving justice and that we have the right approach to policy.

There are two areas on which I am going to focus. First, what should guide a successful policy on criminal justice and what we learnt after thirteen years in office .

Second, my concerns about this government's current position and how we should respond to it. And I want to start by thanking Juliet and Sunder very much for organising this event. It is because of the generosity and hard work of the Prison Reform Trust and the Fabian Society that I am here to address you this evening.
Trying to convince people through rational argument is a central plank of the Fabian Societys methods.

They draw upon facts, rather than emotional rhetoric, to steer the debate. They hold onto their principles while at the same time always asking the important question: 'What Works?'.So they stand out from other groups.On justice issues, we can learn a lot from this approach.

Because it's easy to slip into polarised or emotive positions when discussing our justice system. The Fabian approach, I think, is the right one and it should continue to guide us.

The Fabians, the Prison Reform Trust and a number of other campaigners and reformers have shaped the discussion on criminal justice for over a century. They continue to fight hard to improve conditions in our prisons; and to maximise the opportunities for former offenders to be rehabilitated. They faced down those who wished to regress to far less humane treatment within the system.

Each reform adjusted the relationship between the reduction in crime, investment in rehabilitation, and tackling the root causes of criminal behaviour. And not because we became softer on crime or because we cared less about the victims. Far from it.

But because we slowly understood that at the core of our justice system we needed to improve people's lives and change their behaviour. And this would have a knock on benefit to victims and potential victims of crime.

However, let's not fool ourselves that the argument has been won. Voices that think any progressive influence in the justice system is a sign of weakness have not gone away. And we cannot just ignore them. We have to engage with their concerns, and we have to win the arguments.

We have to show that a progressive approach is not just principled but effective
This is important to me both as a politician and personally. I grew up in Tooting and I saw for myself that often both the offender and the victim of crime come from similar circumstances and the same community. You learn quickly that justice for the victim is vital.

No system can survive unless victims feel they're treated fairly. But we also have to think about the offender - how do we stop them from committing crime again. And most important, how do we stop them from committing a crime in the first place.

This requires a focus on the experience of the offender through the criminal justice system if we are going to make improvements. Arrest by the police, the decision to charge at the police station, the involvement of the Crown Prosecution Service, the decision on plea of the charge and the trial itself.

The preparation of the pre-sentence report which is used by the judge to pass sentence, the various options open to a judge in sentencing, including use of custodial and non-custodial sentences, the role sentencing guidelines play, the amount of rehabilitation and punishment each of the options offers.

Life inside prison and what this is entails - treating medical problems, addressing offender behaviour, maximising chances of maintaining family ties and training for work - all crucial to prevent re-offending - consideration of release on licence, help and support given on release, the help given after release.

And throughout this process, to ensure the person arrested - the offender - has proper representation. And just like I have talked about offenders, of paramount importance is the victim and their experience of the system.

Making sure the victim is treated sensitively by the police, more investment in Victim Support, witness suites at police stations, record number of family liaison officers, the greater ability for witness anonymity, special measures to give witness protection and security, being kept informed about the progress of the case, witness facilities at Crown Courts, increased investment in criminal injuries compensation schemes, victim personal statements being used by judges, and the start of restorative justice.

I appreciate just how complicated this all is, but we need to look at each aspect of this complex process, and identify what are the most effective policies and put them in place. And what will help us to cut crime. After all, cutting crime has to be our priority. And in government, cutting crime is what we did - by 2010, crime was 43% lower than it had been in 1997.

We achieved something that no other government since the Second World War had managed - leaving office with crime lower than when we came to office:

Violent crime down 42%

First time young offenders down 20%

Public perception of anti-social behaviour lower than at any time since the survey was introduced in 2001

The chance of being a victim of crime the lowest since records began in 1981
We achieved this by putting into practice the mantra "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime"

We realised that tackling deprivation is core to challenging the root causes of crime and that the problem did not necessarily begin with the crime itself. But with many offenders it has its roots in difficult and destructive backgrounds. So, we invested in Sure Start, in schools, in training, in Education Maintenance Allowance, in youth provision, in jobs. The kinds of investment which prevent an inevitable drift towards a life of crime.

A key element of our approach was stopping people committing crimes in the first place. But we also equipped our police with the extra resources to tackle crime, catch offenders and patrol our streets.

By 2010, not only was investment in Sure Start, in schools, in youth facilities at record levels but police numbers and community support officers were also at record highs.

BUT, it is a fact that the prison population did also soar under Labour to record levels.

We did send more people to prison and for longer - we now have over 85,000 people in prison.

And while we successfully reduced crime, we did not manage to reduce the prison population. Some argue in fact the reason crime went down was because of record numbers in prison. Withdrawal of freedoms and liberties can be a justifiable punishment - maybe even the only punishment - that is worthy of the crime committed.

And we must not forget the respite that custodial sentences can offer those communities blighted by crime.

But this is where it becomes easy to fall into lazy thinking.

Whatever the importance of custodial sentencing, prison isn't simply a warehouse for storing offenders. Of those in prison today, over 70% will have been released 10 years from now.

This is precisely why society has a duty to successfully rehabilitate offenders back into society so they don't commit crimes again. For prison to be effective at rehabilitating, you need commitment and you need investment.

And it's not easy, particularly if prisons are overcrowded, or if prisoners are locked in their cells for 22 hours a day.

And to rehabilitate successfully we know that a home, a family and a job are critical for effective reintegration into society. Focusing on these issues is not about being soft on crime - but being effective in reducing crime.

But it is a huge challenge to rehabilitate offenders and reintegrate them back into society.
The data demonstrates the enormity of this challenge:

Half of male and one-third of female sentenced prisoners had been excluded from school.

Two-thirds have numeracy skills at or below that expected of an 11 year old.

Half have reading and 82% writing ability at or below that expected of an 11 year old.

And around 70% of prisoners suffer from multiple mental health disorders - in startling contrast to the general population where the figure is between 2 and 5%
These are the statistics we need to focus on.

Therefore, it's clear that if rehabilitation is to be successful, it must be joined-up and not just between government departments, but between central and local government, and between local and national agencies.

Across the health service and the education system with a focus on equipping offenders with the literacy, numeracy and life skills they require for the confidence needed to return to civic life.

And on our watch, to support these areas of work:
Probation funding rose 70%.

From 2006/7 we committed to invest £200million per year in prison healthcare.

Money spent on offender learning trebled.

Investment in drug treatment in prison is 15 times higher than in 1997.

We implemented Lord Bradley's report into mental health and learning disability problems in prisons and Baroness Jean Corston's ground-breaking work on women in the criminal justice system.

And the impact of this investment?
Between 2000 and 2008, re-offending fell 16%.

Juvenile reoffending is at its lowest level 2000.


BUT re-offending rates are still too high as is the prison population.

I'm clear that this is one area where our scorecard in office would have said "could have done better". Much better, in fact. In my view, even if one offender goes on to commit another offence, it is still one too many.

We are still faced with the situation where three out of every five prisoners released from a custodial sentence go on to re-offend at least once. 20% re-offend within 3 months of leaving prison, 43% within one year.

This confirms we are failing to have these ex-offenders become successfully reintegrated into communities. So a fundamental challenge must be to look at how we bring down the depressing statistics on re-offending.

And in office, I feel that it was a mistake to not focus more on the issue of reducing reoffending. We became hesitant in talking about rehabilitation and the merits of investment in bringing down re-offending rates.

We got into the position whereby a focus on rehabilitation and reducing re-offending was seen as being soft on crime when in fact it is effective in reducing crime.

And it was almost as if we had to give off the impression we were ever more tough on crime just to demonstrate we weren't soft on crime.

So a lot of the work we did on rehabilitation was, as a result, often done too quietly
And the consequence was that we did not make the rehabilitation argument our own.

The work that we did to prevent youth offending, and to tackle the roots of criminality and combat social deprivation, was drowned out by debates on prisons and being tough on criminals. We should have been bolder in putting forward progressive arguments.

I believe this made some of our key allies question us.

Playing tough in order not to look soft made it harder to focus on what is effective
I am determined not to repeat this.

I am ready to make the argument that there is more to criminal justice than prisons; that rehabilitation is vital; and that ultimately we should be striving for a lower prison population.

Let me at this point be clear - it is my aim that fewer people should be sent to prison
I'm not ashamed to have that as an aim. But a smaller prison population must follow less crime. It can't simply be achieved through arbitrary targets for a prison population OR by releasing prisoners prematurely without due process.

At least partly it has to be achieved by bringing down stubbornly high rates of re-offending, to stop the cycle of criminality and the revolving door of our prisons.

After all, successfully rehabilitating people means less victims of crime. Coupled to preventing crime occurring in the first place, this will lower the prison population.

And this brings me to the approach of the current government and how we should respond to it. The real test is: do the policies of the Tory-led Government work to bring down crime?

We've seen wholesale cuts to some of the very schemes and initiatives we put in place to help tackle the root causes of crime - Sure Start, EMA, youth provision and unemployment going up, not down. We are also seeing cuts in victims support and also in police numbers.

And on rehabilitation, I'm unsure the government is offering any real alternative to prison. Prison numbers are being cut not for criminal justice principles but economic principles. As I have argued, a real reduction in crime requires investment in a cross-government approach, not one where a ministers' top priority is slashing spending from their own department's bottom line, regardless of whether this displaces costs elsewhere across Whitehall.

It's clear that the policies of the Ministry of Justice are founded on the short-term need to cut costs, not crime. But in the short-term, successful rehabilitation requires resources.

And successful rehabilitation will not only make society better, it will produce long-term savings - both from the prison budget, and from society as a whole as a result of lower crime.

This government is taking a very short-sighted view on the rehabilitation process
In the long run, they are risking increased costs by gambling with public safety - there is a real and genuine danger that because of their policies crime will rise. Quite simply, it's irresponsible to pursue this agenda without the investment to match it.

It is irresponsible to shed thousands of front line staff from the probation service, precisely at the time you are expecting them to take on a greater role in working with offenders.

When you see it for what it is, the government is not championing the rehabilitation of criminals.

Instead, the government is abandoning their responsibilities towards rehabilitation.
In essence, they are hoping that somehow, somewhere, the gap will be filled.

But the organisations that might fill this gap might not be in any position to fulfil this role, as they are currently faced with cuts and severe financial pressures of their own.

And take the Government's Green Paper, which proposes payment by results, to be piloted in six schemes as an option for filling the gap.

Once you analyse it, the problems become obvious: they are proposing payment by results, but the department budget is being cut by almost 25%, before we even have time to see the results. That could be a serious long-term error.

I have real worries about this approach.

If Ken Clarke's plans fail, this government will have undone much of the progress in criminal justice over the last 13 years that the we now take for granted.

If their apparently progressive policies don't work, it will open the door for those in the Tory party who have a much more reactionary view. The progressives and our agenda will be brushed aside.

Focusing on rehabilitation is in all our interests including the victims of crime and the communities that criminals blight. But there is a risk that this important principal will be discredited by poor implementation and a lack of funding, setting the agenda back a long way.

It's my role to scrutinise this government's policies, and this is something I won't shy away from.
Government policy must be subjected to evidence-based review and success or failure judged through objective measures:

Has crime gone up or down?

Is violent crime up or down?

Are offending and re-offending rates rising or falling?

Is the number of first time offenders going up or down?

These are key to performance monitoring. And in opposition I intend to be guided by clear, principled thinking. Rational deliberation, founded on hard facts - which yields action and change in people's lives. That is why these "Justice Tests" of success or failure are so important.

Nevertheless, I resolutely believe our justice policy should be principled, put victims at its centre, and seek to rehabilitate those who commit crime.

But above all it needs proper investment and commitment. In government we didn't get everything right all the time. We did reduce crime significantly, BUT the reoffending rates were still too high.

We should have been bolder in arguing the importance of investment in rehabilitation, in diversion, in mental health provision in prisons, in schemes to equip offenders with the skills and confidence to face life after prison - all of which ultimately have a role in delivering further reductions in crime, which after all is our main objective.

This period in opposition gives us an opportunity to draw breath and review these policies and look where we can and should be more effective.

To have a grown up debate about criminal justice and go back to first principles in many areas.

And to ensure that we always look at what works, and why.

So, creating a successful, progressive, joined-up policy platform is an ambitious goal; one that requires commitment.

Such a commitment is more than the prevention of crime, but the transformation of people's lives for the better. And that brings me to what we can do as a party.

We must consult with you to improve and develop our own policy. Labour finds itself in opposition after 13 years in office and in a changed world from that of 1997. We are presented with an opportunity to reconnect with the priorities and concerns of the British public.

Our 2015 election platform needs to present progressive, sensible and costed solutions that works for communities up and down the country. This means that Labour will champion the rights of the British public to live their lives free from crime'
One which places victims at the heart of the whole criminal justice process, which is why, first and foremost, we want to stop crime being committed and stop people becoming criminals.

And that's why I am pleased to announce today a forthcoming Working Group which will look at these very issues in more detail. I have asked a number of leading experts across the justice landscape to advise me in looking at Punishment and Reform: what works to protect the public and stop crime?

They include leading practitioners, equality experts, grass roots campaigners and a range of others with valuable expertise. I actively welcome input from across the field and hope that many of you today will use this opportunity to contribute to the review.

I want to hear from you about what works, what makes a difference, what is tried and tested. The review's aim is to ensure that the party's priorities in justice reflect the challenges of today.This is not a small task. It is a piece of work that we are determined to undertake thoroughly.

I know the hard work that goes on by the staff across all of the criminal justice system, and I pay tribute to their dedication. But I also appreciate the frustrations and the challenges that are faced at every turn. That's why, at the end of our policy review, I am determined we will have a justice policy which works - for staff in the justice system and the communities they serve.

I am firmly committed to do the heavy lifting to achieve the right balance between deterrent, punishment and rehabilitation. I want to forge a Britain in which our principles are at the forefront; where crime levels are lower and communities are safer; and one in which the cycle of re-offending is broken.

Because by doing so, together we will create a better and safer Britain.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.