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22 September 2022

Labour’s new mantra on crime: “punish, prevent, protect”

Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, promises a novel approach focused on the “trauma” that leads to offending.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Labour would introduce a “trauma-informed” criminal justice system, with a slate of law-and-order policies in order to “punish, prevent and protect”, if it was elected.

Writing exclusively for the New Statesman nearly 30 years after Tony Blair first declared that a government under him would be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” in this publication, the shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said it was “time to update this approach for today’s world”.

The frontbencher writes that Labour would reform the justice system “end-to-end”. The plan would focus on prisons, which he says have “descended into violent drug-fuelled colleges of crime”, a new victims’ bill, and a pledge to “break the cycle” of reoffending with the help of behavioural science.

Labour will make law and order policy central to its conference in Liverpool next week. The announcement is part of the opposition leader Keir Starmer’s aim to show voters the party can be trusted on crime ahead of the next election, which is expected in 2024.

Reed promises “the world’s first ‘trauma-informed’ criminal justice system. This means reforming the system to use learning from the developing science around childhood trauma. In so many cases – whether it’s low-level antisocial behaviour up to the most serious forms of crime against the person – you can trace an offender’s criminal behaviour back to a childhood trauma that damaged their cognitive and emotional development.”

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He continues: “Whether it’s a child growing up with a drug-addicted parent or witnessing violent abuse in their home, that trauma can take hold and express itself in damaging criminal behaviour. If we focus our courts and prisons on tackling that, we can break the cycle of crime for good.” 

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The new justice secretary, Brandon Lewis, faces huge challenges in his role: criminal barristers are on an indefinite strike over pay, while the court backlog stands at 60,000. And, in the wake of the Sarah Everard case and reports of misogyny in London’s Metropolitan Police, pressure is intensifying on the Conservatives to improve the prosecution rate for rape, which is at a historic low of 1.3 per cent.

Reed says that crimes “as serious as burglary, street robbery, car break-ins and fraud have effectively been decriminalised” due to the loss of front-line police during austerity. “Tony Blair declared that Labour would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime,” he writes. “The result? A Labour government that reduced crime by a third. It’s time to update this approach for today’s world. As the shadow justice secretary, I have a simple mantra: punish, prevent and protect.”

Reed, who has spoken before about how he was attacked in Clapham, south London more than 20 years ago, also draws on his own personal experience of crime. “I was once robbed in a dark street with a knife pressed against my throat,” he confides. “I know how it feels to want to see offenders brought to justice, but like every victim I’d rather not have been attacked at all.”

He adds that the victims’ bill would include a new victims’ panel to “give communities in every neighbourhood a bigger say over how offenders pay back for the harm they’ve done”.

[See also: The Tories have broken Britain’s justice system – Labour can fix it]