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Sadiq Khan MP, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, in a speech to Progress, said:

I would like to start by thanking you all for coming. 

And thank you to Progress for hosting this event which is part of an important series examining how Labour policy should be developed.

I also want to wish Progress a happy birthday – for 15 years Progress has played a vital role in engaging Labour members and provoking debate. Long may it continue. 

The revelations of the last two weeks have reverberated well beyond Westminster and we are operating in what must be the start of a changed relationship between politicians, the press, the police and the influence each has over another. Labour has been on the front foot throughout and Ed Miliband has articulated the public anger and the need to change the status quo. But even within this turbulent environment where one issue seems to dominate, important as it is, Labour must also stay focussed on the big issues that affect the quality of people’s daily lives, the cohesion of our communities and, ultimately, the outcome of the next general election.

Tackling crime and anti-social behaviour will always be a priority for Labour. That immortal phrase uttered by Tony Blair 18 years ago – “tough on crime tough on the causes of crime” – remains the right principle to underpin criminal justice policy. It encapsulates the primary purposes of the criminal justice system and social policy in this area - to catch, punish and reform offenders, to protect the public, but also to address the underlying reasons for criminality, both at a societal and personal level.

I will go into more detail on these key elements as they were handled by the Labour government, how they are being handled by the current government and how they will be addressed by the next Labour government, specifically relating to the focus of today’s meeting – rehabilitation and re-offending. 

The question Progress has asked is ‘can we be tough on crime and right on re-offending’? 

The answer to this has to be yes, for the simple reason that getting it right on reoffending means cutting crime and protecting the public from future offences.  

As the criminal justice system evolved over recent decades, along with our understanding of psychology, sociology and criminology, experts began to realise that at its core it needed to improve people’s lives, encourage them to take responsibility for, and ultimately change, their behaviour.

The old adages of ‘evil’ people behaving like ‘monsters’ absolved the offenders from responsibility for their offences and the authorities of their duty to prevent crimes and reform criminals – even if those adjectives seem like the only appropriate reaction to some truly heinous acts. 

Labour understood that it was not good enough to simply accept that some people would inevitably follow a life of crime and just let market and social forces run rough-shod over communities.

As progressives, we instead rightly tried to tackle the root causes of offending – to get tough on the problems we knew too often set people along the road of criminality.  This is not about making excuses for offenders, but understanding the root causes which would enable us to address offender and, crucially, potential offender behaviour.

This meant having an understanding that the problem did not necessarily begin with the crime itself, but with many offenders it has its roots in difficult and destructive backgrounds characterised by, for example, deprivation, educational underachievement, mental health problems, substance abuse and a lack of opportunities in training and employment. 

The prison population has always been massively overrepresented by people with social characteristics often derived from these circumstances – which just goes to show the extent of the rehabilitation problem we face: 

  • Almost a third of prisoners were taken into care as a child, compared with just 2% of the general population
  • A third were homeless, compared with less than 1% of the general population
  • Two thirds were unemployed
  • Two-thirds have numeracy skills at or below that expected of an 11 year old
  • Half have reading and 82% writing ability at or below that expected of an 11 year old
  • And around 70% of prisoners suffer from multiple mental health disorders – in startling contrast to the general population where the figure is between 2 and 5%


In fact, getting across these startling statistics is key to transforming the public’s understanding of the penal system and those within it. Polling has shown that while the public, when asked in general terms, favour long, hard sentences for criminals - those people who take part, at the pollsters request, in mock-jury exercises often end up giving shorter sentences than real judges do in similar, real, circumstances – the reason given is that once their preconception of a calculating, morally corrupt individual is replaced with the reality of a homeless, illiterate drug addict they take a more sympathetic view.

That doesn’t mean to say that some offenders aren’t calculating, corrupt and morally bankrupt, nor should these factors provide an excuse for criminality - but it does confirm that we were right to focus on getting a tight grip on these roots of crime, not just for the sake of the criminal whose life is being wasted, but the communities blighted by their actions and the victims that have suffered from them. 

This is one of the reasons why the last Labour government invested in programmes such as Sure Start, in schools, in training, in the Education Maintenance Allowance, in youth provision and in jobs. 

We put roadblocks along the route to a life of crime and it had begun to show real results. 

During our time in office first time young offending fell by over 20%.

But we also equipped our police with the extra resources to tackle crime, catch offenders and patrol our streets - By 2010, not only was investment in Sure Start, in schools, in youth facilities at record levels but police numbers and community support officers were also at record highs.

And crime was at record lows.

We saw a 43% drop overall in the crime rate during Labour’s time in office. That is something we should be proud of – fewer people were made victims of crime and we provided communities with the resources to tackle anti-social behaviour. We diverted people from a life of crime by providing constructive alternatives in education, work and training and deterred people from committing offences as, due to our investments in the police, there was a greater risk of getting caught. 

And I accept that during this time more people were sent to prison. This provided a respite for victims and communities as simply by their incarceration - or incapacitation as it is known - offenders couldn’t commit more crimes in the communities from which they were removed. We also increased the length of sentences for the most serious and violent crimes. 

But over 70% of the current prison population will be out within the next 10 years and so, for the sake of our communities, we have to try to stop them reoffending. The way to do this is by reforming them before their sentence is complete.

Once someone has been convicted, a sentence handed down and punishment begun, we need to aggressively intervene to ensure, as much as is possible, that by the time the sentence is complete, the offender has been reformed. 

The characteristics often exhibited by offenders makes it clear that if rehabilitation is to be successful, it must be joined-up and not just between government departments, but between central and local government, and between local and national agencies.

Rehabilitation needs to involve the health service where the offender has medical issues and also the education system with a focus on equipping offenders with the literacy, numeracy and life skills they require for the confidence needed to return to civic life and contribute constructively. 

And I have to honest, I am frustrated by the lack of credit the Labour government receives for the commitment we had to rehabilitation. On our watch, to support these areas of work: 

  • Probation funding rose 70%
  • From 2006/7 we committed to invest £200 million per year in prison healthcare
  • Money spent on offender learning trebled
  • Investment in drug treatment in prison was 15 times higher in 2010 than in 1997
  • We implemented Lord Bradley’s report into mental health and learning disability problems in prisons and Baroness Jean Corston’s ground-breaking work on women in the criminal justice system 
  • And we introduced a programme of restorative justice for youth offenders, involving victims in the youth justice process


And this investment did deliver results:

  • Between 2000 and 2008, re-offending fell 16%
  • Juvenile re-offending is at its lowest level since 2000


We sought new and innovative ways to deal with the intractable problem of the high re-offending rates of those on short term sentences, where prison was simply incapacitation of a repeat offender, not an opportunity to reform – primarily because they did not have access to offender management, behavioural and training programmes and were therefore often ineligible for monitoring by the Probation Service when released.

To try to address this, we launched the six-year Peterborough Prison pilot where experienced social sector organisations are providing intensive support to 3000 short-sentence prisoners, both during their time in custody and upon release and resettlement into the community. The pilot is on a payment by results basis, so if investors are successful in reducing re-offending, they will share with the Government the long term financial savings from cutting re-offending. 

The Peterborough pilot is still in its early stages, so it is too early to tell what will be the long term results. But working to lay the foundations of long term rehabilitation – providing practical assistance with housing, employment, personal finance and health – will hopefully deliver a reduction in re-offending, fewer victims of crime and long term savings. 

However, despite some success and innovation, during our time in office re-offending rates still remained stubbornly high and I fully accept that even more should have, could have and now needs to be done. 

49% of convicted prisoners are reconvicted within a year of release, with unknown numbers committing offences that don’t lead to a conviction. 61% of prisoners who have served a sentence of less than 12 months are reconvicted within a year of release and for prolific offenders who have served more than 10 custodial sentences the re-offending rate is a staggering 79%.

Driving down these statistics by providing drug and alcohol treatment, education, skills training and resettlement back into the community with all that entails isn’t about being ‘soft on crime’. It is about doing what’s effective to stop the estimated annual cost of £10bn to the country and the untold cost of human misery repeat offenders cause. 

So when Ken Clarke said he would try to focus not on political posturing but on what worked, when he said he wanted to look at tough alternatives to custody that might cut reoffending and when he said he would make prisons places of reform and hard work, who could disagree? It seemed he wanted to build on some of our hard won gains.

But the Justice Secretary has absolutely no strategy for tackling the re-offending rates he calls a “national scandal”, his sentencing plans are in disarray and his rehabilitation programme doesn’t add up. 

In fact, the cuts his government are making to prevention initiatives, the police, probation and prisons (I call them them the four Ps) run the risk of undoing the progress we made in government.

In the last 14 months, we’ve witnessed wholesale cuts to some of the very schemes Labour put in place to help tackle the root causes of crime – Sure Start centres closed, EMA scrapped, youth provision cut. 

Meanwhile the police are experiencing cuts of 20% which will have huge impacts on communities battling crime and anti-social behaviour and also the Youth Offending Teams that have been so successful in bringing down youth crime. 

And rather than investments in rehabilitation programmes both in the community and in prison, we are seeing thousands of prison and probation officers lose their jobs. 

This government seems to fundamentally misunderstand the crucial role trained and experienced prison and probation officers make to reducing re-offending – the very people who are charged with delivering rehabilitation and keeping our prisons secure and communities safe now fear for their jobs and the standards of the service they can provide.  

All the evidence indicates that the relationship between an offender and the probation officer who monitors them in the community, helps ensure they attend courses and interviews and receive the necessary interventions they need, is a vital factor in rehabilitation. 

But instead of supporting this work, the probation union, NAPO, has estimated that 3000 frontline probation officers will lose their jobs over the next four years and a recent report from UNISON has shown that almost 70% of probation staff feel less secure in their jobs than they did a year ago. Our own research has shown that funding of probation trusts in some of the country’s biggest urban areas – where crime rates are highest – are being slashed this year: West Yorkshire by 9.8%, Humberside by 9.6%, London by 5.3% and Greater Manchester 5.1%. 

I know from the visits I make to prisons in different regions of the country that prison officers are already over stretched and as a result prisoners will be spending more time idling in their cells or on landings rather than using time productively in education, training or work.

Only last week, a new report from the think tank Civitas, criticised the government’s rehabilitation proposals as allowing those most in need of reform to slip through the net – as they won’t be targeting those offenders unwilling to reform themselves. 

The report warns that if offenders who don’t feel compelled to reform are excluded from the training and work programmes; “the Government's assertion that prison is less effective in reducing reoffending for certain groups of prisoners will continue to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”  Another concern highlighted that rehabilitation programmes based on payment by results could lead to those delivering the service to deliberately exclude prisoners that are most difficult to reform - cherry picking those most willing to change - in case it adversely affects their bottom line.

This is a far cry from the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ we were promised by Ken Clarke. Instead we are more likely to see prison as a short and regular interruption to the cycle of offending, rather than an opportunity for criminals to break out of it for good. 

Ken Clarke over promised in his Green Paper and under delivered in his Justice Bill. So we’re in a position where the most in need won’t receive help. We will have an under-resourced probation service dealing with a heavier workload as more people are diverted from custody. And public trust in the justice system will be severely affected. 

But this is what you get when justice policy is retrofitted around a huge 23% cut in the MoJ budget that Ken Clarke accepted from the Treasury without any discussion or objection.

My fear is that it will be communities up and down the country, and victims of crime, who will suffer as a result.

And it is victims who should be at the heart of our justice system – not only because it is right that they are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, but also because their cooperation is essential if the system is to function effectively. 

Punishment and the protection of the public are two of the key purposes of sentencing, but it could be used to do much more to reduce reoffending if we also focussed on reparation for victims and restorative justice where appropriate.

Many victims I have met express a sincere hope that, once the perpetrator of their crime had been brought to justice, work can done to ensure that they don’t re-offend and other people don’t suffer in the way they did.

We owe it to these victims to do what we can to ensure others don’t have to go through the same trauma they have had to endure.

That is why I am calling for the Victims’ Commissioner, Louise Casey’s, Victims’ Law to be enshrined in statute, so victims are considered throughout the criminal justice process 

Its why our Justice Policy Review is looking at the best ways to rehabilitate offenders so we can prevent people from becoming victims of crime in the future

And why I am working with the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, to oppose the police cuts so frontline officers can stop crimes being committed in the first place and ensure those who do commit them are caught. 

Our review will be looking at all aspects of the criminal justice system and within it, how sentencing can best perform its intended roles – to punish, but also reform offenders and to protect the public.

This will mean, amongst other things, looking at the evidence of whether tougher community sentences would deliver better results for non-violent offenders. Whether some sentences should be made longer to ensure rehabilitation can take place. And whether localising prisons would make resettlement into the community for offenders more successful and help reduce re-offending.

What we do know from experience is that in order to get long term savings from reducing re-offending, short term investment is necessary. Trying to rehabilitate on the cheap, excluding the most in need, with fewer professional staff and no regard to the concerns of victims is frankly irresponsible - and this is one of the reasons we have opposed the government’s plans.

What I know from my personal experience of growing up on a council estate in the South London constituency I now have the privilege to represent, is that often victims and criminals live side by side  that communities need support to tackle offending behaviour however low-level it seems. 

I also know that there is no single reason why people commit offences and no uniform pathway to successful rehabilitation.

That’s why we have to seek out the evidence - of what works in different cases and how we can scale it up. Its why we’re consulting experts in a thorough policy review and why we are asking Progress members and others what they think needs to be done to ensure we have a criminal justice policy that punishes and reforms offenders, protects the public and ultimately brings down crime.

So, back to the question posed tonight: can Labour be tough on crime and right on rehabilitation? Absolutely. Striving for anything less would be a dereliction of the duty we owe to victims of crime and the communities we represent.

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