Quakers in Criminal Justice

August 2010 Newsletter


I had expected to write an editorial this time deploring the lack of any mention of criminal justice in the recent election campaign; there seemed to be what I refuse to call a gentleman's agreement not to refer to the subject at all. But events have overtaken me. What do I now hear? Ken Clarke on Radio Four, proclaiming what people involved in the justice system have been saying for years, that prison DOESN'T work, that short sentences are a waste of money and do not even deter, as two-thirds of ex-prisoners offend again within two years. Resources are scarce, and are likely to become scarcer. Meanwhile prisons too often fail to provide the effective help that is needed for the serious offenders for whom there is no alternative.

Recently, pausing during a cycle ride on a hot day to rest in the shade of an Essex churchyard, I noted a discreet plaque recording the recent tidying of the churchyard under the Community Payback scheme. There is a better scheme for petty offenders than keeping them behind bars, at vast expense, and having to maintain their dependants also. The people who still call for more prison places, like those who want more spent on war preparations, will never be satisfied, because they are giving voice to an emotional attitude rather than to a reasoned argument. I have not heard anybody claim 100,000 prison places will be enough; or 200,000, or a million. Actual figures are never mentioned. Now, the need for financial restraint gives our Coalition government a golden opportunity for a change of policy without loss of face. We shall see whether brave words lead to any change in actual practice. What I would most like to see is a new emphasis on justice in the community, that takes account not only of the offender and victim, but of their families, and of the surrounding community which may have been harmed by the offence. In fact, I am calling for a much wider implementation of Restorative Justice. There are plenty of good ideas; what has been lacking, up to now, has been the political will to put them into practice.

Adrian Smith
Newsletter editor

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