Our prisons are in crisis - violence, self-harm and deaths in custody are an at all-time high, prison capacity is stretched way beyond its limits and far too few prison officers struggle - under utterly unacceptable pressure - to deliver more with less.
Against this backdrop the Government has published its long-awaited Prisons and Courts Bill. They now accept that prisons must be more than human warehouses; they must be places of education, rehabilitation and reform.
The Conservatives are finally adopting the Liberal Democrat approach: better late than never! But their stated ambitions will be worthless if the Government fail to get a grip on prisoner numbers.
The last three decades have seen numbers in England and Wales rising more sharply than ever, almost doubling to today’s level of about 85,000.
The latest figures again show that we have the highest rate of imprisonment in Western Europe. This is crippling the system. Prisons are massively overcrowded, while chronic staff shortages prison mean staff cannot even ensure safety, let alone take on the extra work required to rehabilitate prisoners in their care. This is a political failure that needs a political solution.
We need to take a hard look at sentencing policy, unafraid of the popular press. The increased use of minimum sentences has tied judges’ hands, meaning they can’t use their wisdom and discretion to adopt alternatives to prison where appropriate.
That is why the Liberal Democrats at our Conference are calling for a drastic overhaul in sentencing policy, which now lacks both rationality and flexibility,
as judges feel constrained to pass prison sentences which deny offenders their best chance of rehabilitation.
This Government had the opportunity to overhaul sentencing policy in this Bill and their failure to do so risks continuing a policy of chaotic and damaging over-sentencing and an ever-increasing prison population.
Then we have the national scandal of IPP prisoners, serving indefinite sentences, who are still in prison despite having served their tariff sentences. In Coalition we ended these sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection, recognising that they were unacceptable in principle, yet at the end of last year, almost 4,000 IPP prisoners were still awaiting release, the majority having served their minimum tariff.
For these prisoners, the uncertainty of not knowing when they will be released is unbearable and has an established adverse impact on their mental health; their continued imprisonment also has an effect on other prisoners, quite apart from the damage it does to the reputation of British justice.
Unless the Government gets prisoner numbers down and devotes the resources necessary to getting staffing levels up, building a renewed prison estate and providing effective education, training and other purposeful activity in every prison, all they will be doing is trying to use small sticking plasters to staunch gaping wounds.!!!!!!
Liberal Democrat Conference will once again stand up for doing what works to achieve real change - I hope the Conservatives will be listening.
Lord Marks QC is a Lib Dem peer and the party’s shadow justice secretary
I share your view of Ms Truss. She is primarily the minister for the treasury, which I might add she receives a whooping salary for. She is unpaid for her job as the justice secretary. I somehow believe that Ms May wanted it this way. A sleeping justice secretary means that nothing is put forward without her approval and as Ms May has shown nothing but contempt for prisoners rights in her role as home secretary she wants to avoid any positive reform.
Lord Faulkes makes a very good point in the below article in the Times. He quit his job over Ms Truss's appointment as the justice secretary. He said he felt she had no experience, or Law qualifications and therefore wouldn't have the clout to stand up to the prime minister on the facts of law and couldn't defend the judges. I think that's exactly what Ms May wanted Theresa May's new administration
A message to the new Justice Secretary Liz Truss. We want them to... have self worth, so we destroy their self worth To be responsible, so we take away all responsibility To be part of our community, so we isolate them from the community To be positive and constructive, so we degrade them and make them useless To be non violent, so we put them where there is violence all around To be kind and loving people, so we subject them to hatred and cruelty To quit being tough guys, so we put them where the tough guy is respected To quit hanging around losers, so we put all the losers under one roof To quit exploiting us, so we put them where they exploit each other We want them to take control of their own lives own their own problems and quit being parasites, so we make them totally dependent on us By Judge Dennis Challeen -
LeeI can tell you all we are seeing is deferrals after deferrals and simply be being ghosted, shifted from one prison to another, without warning, on a senseless go-round seemingly designed to disorientate and pacify.
We now have the highest prison population in Europe by a considerable measure, and following the recent riots there is "no "likelihood of it decreasing with Liz Truss .
Unless an individual represents a credible physical threat I'd far rather he was set to work the in the "community rehabilitation" and must consist precisely in assisting. But appears they don't really want prisoners rehabilitated, they want them punished. They want them locked down, maltreated and if it were possible beaten on a regular basis. Too often a prison sentence does not cure the causes of crime, but aggravates them. Instead releasing and helping prisoners to connect with jobs and become included in society , it can take away the employment, housing and family links, and leave prisoners virtually destitute, on the road back to prison." One ex-prisoner told me "It’s true what they say: your sentence begins the day you get out." Is it not irrational for a destitute prison-leaver to choose to return to crime if it is his only survival strategy.
I had this really helpful letter back from Katherine Gleeson, hope it helps and perhaps you could pass it to your constituent?