Quakers in Criminal Justice

December 2009 Newsletter


I spent a few days recently in the company of an intelligent man, recently retired after a successful business career, who held views on criminal justice about as far from mine as could possibly be. He wanted more prison places, and more people locked up, “as while they are in prison, they cannot commit more crimes”. He openly believed in sentencing as revenge; few people are honest enough to admit this, preferring to maintain, at least in public, that the purpose of punishment is deterrence. He read a newspaper which I suspect is rarely seen in Quaker households. He criticised my objections about the cost of prison as “an argument in favour of capital punishment”, which he did not favour; it is interesting, but the point of view that it saves money to execute people, rather than keep them behind bars for decades till they die, is one that I have never heard put forward.

This man's company I found stimulating; we got on well. He forced me to think again about my own attitudes. Am I just “a bleeding-heart liberal”? If I was Secretary of State for Justice, what would I actually do to be seen to be successfully combating crime, and so maintaining the confidence of the public? These are hard questions, which Quakers need to consider.

I was sorry to see one letter in The Friend recently, deploring the loss of the Society's former concern for criminal justice, and another, more recently, stating that prison numbers are coming down. We of all people should be well informed on such matters, and it is up to QICJ members around the country to make us better known. So here, Friends, is your New Year Resolution! Enrol a fellow sympathiser; better, enrol your Meeting. But anyone who wants to come to our conference must act quickly, as places at Glenthorne are limited.

Adrian Smith
Newsletter editor

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