Following her attendance at the Conservative Party Conference this week, Catch22’s Head of Policy and Campaigns, Stella Tsantekidou, outlines the topics discussed during an important roundtable that was focused on the justice system.
This week, the Conservative Party held its annual conference in Manchester. This is an important time for the Conservatives as they are preparing for the next General elections which are expected to take place in 2024. The theme of the speeches and the debates were heavily focused on crime, policing and immigration. During the conference it was announced that the Government is looking into extending prison sentences for the worst offenders and sending prisoners to prisons abroad. These two policies are a return to the familiar territory of ‘tough on crime’ that rises in popularity during every election cycle.
To explore this ‘tough on crime’ narrative, Andy Canniford, Catch22’s Chief Development Officer, and I attended a roundtable hosted by Nacro and the Commission on Young Lives on ‘Reducing Crime and Reoffending’. The roundtable brought together politicians and sector experts including:
- Anne Longfield, Commission on Young Lives
- Helen Berresford, Director of External Engagement, Nacro
- Tim Loughton MP, Home Affairs Select Committee
- Damian Hinds MP, Minister of State for Prisons, Parole and Probation
- Caroline Henry, Police and Crime Commissioner, Nottingham and Nottinghamshire
The discussion that followed was refreshingly nuanced for a topic that can often be presented unthoughtfully in the media. I found the following points to be the most illuminating:
- School-based interventions: The minister noted that working within schools to divert children from a life of crime has been highly successful, with a 95% success rate in keeping children engaged with education when these interventions are in place.
- Focus on prevention: Prevention was emphasised as a primary goal by everyone, with a recognition that being tough on crime does not mean neglecting the consequences of criminal actions. It involves addressing the root causes that lead to criminality in the first place.
- Overcriminalisation concerns: Concerns were raised about overcriminalising young people and the importance of identity for youth. Short sentences were noted to have worse reoffending rates compared to community sentences, making the latter a more effective approach to reducing crime.
- Child welfare and school attendance: School attendance was highlighted as a critical means of keeping a watchful eye on children and ensuring their protection from becoming both victims and perpetrators of crime.
- Prison and rehabilitation: The need for rehabilitation within the prison system was discussed. Drug addiction was noted as a significant challenge, with the importance of providing support to address addiction before release. The minister acknowledged how hard it has been for both himself and his predecessors to tackle the stream of drugs into prisons.
- Reintegration into society: Some stressed the importance of teaching prisoners the habit of work, providing them with opportunities, and establishing a clear plan for their reintegration into society after release.
- Transport and care system: Transport links and the rising number of children in the care system were mentioned as factors influencing school attendance and crime prevention.
- Alternative education: Andy highlighted that alternative education in the right environment should be an early prevention measure, with speech and language support also playing a role.
- Poverty and mental health: Poverty and mental health provisions were highlighted as top priorities in addressing the root causes of criminal behaviour.
- Cultural approach to crime: Crime was described as a cultural issue, and the importance of reintegration into society, work, and identity was stressed.
- Non-custodial options: Everyone agreed on the importance of good non-custodial options for dealing with offenders. These sentences do not mean being soft on crime, they simply mean being more effective in solving it.
- Technological solutions: Technology was mentioned as a tool for monitoring and enabling individuals to continue living in the community while being held accountable for their actions.
- Power of sports: A CSJ (Centre for Social Justice) representative, who has also spent time in prison, highlighted the positive impact of sports, particularly on young people. This was emphasised as a means of building self-confidence and providing an outlet for boys at risk of criminal involvement.
- Gendered approach: The importance of a gendered approach and integrating violence against women and girls (VAWG) into crime prevention strategies was highlighted.
- Trusted adults: The role of trusted adults in helping individuals turn their lives around was recognised as crucial, and it was noted that this is often more influential than formal programs.
- Early involvement in crime: Concerns were raised about the decreasing age of young people involved in serious violence, with 14-year-olds managing county lines.
- Violence Reduction Units (VRUs): VRUs were commended for their positive contributions in addressing violence and crime.
The headlines during party conference season are always bold and sometimes unhelpful when dealing with policy issues that require sensitivity and patience. However, the thoughtful discussions that take place behind the conference walls give me hope that progress can happen when people with good intentions come together.
– Stella Tsantekidou, Catch22 Head of Policy and Campaigns