The Government’s new Green Paper on criminal justice which advocates increased use of restorative justice has received a mixed, but broadly positive response from churches and civil society groups.
The Church of England labelled the Government’s proposals "courageous" whilst the Howard League for Penal Reform said it would be focusing its efforts on making the Government "more courageous".
Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform said: “The charity is disappointed that the package is only designed to reduce the prison population by 3,000 men, women and children. As Kenneth Clarke has repeatedly pointed out, the prison population has doubled and there are now 40,000 more people in prison than when he was last in charge of the justice system but the reoffending rate has stayed stubbornly the same.
“The Howard League will be making a detailed submission and will focus on encouraging the government to take more courageous action to end the use of short term prison sentences and custodial remands.”
However, welcoming Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke’s announcement of a Green Paper Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders , The Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Division, said: “The Government’s proposals offer an approach which is courageous in seeking to change our over-reliance on imprisonment and sensible in exploring cost-effective measures to rehabilitate offenders. If prisons are not overcrowded with people who ought to be punished or treated in the community, they will be more effective in working with those who need to be in custody.
“We welcome the Government’s commitment to integrated support for ex-prisoners on release to reduce the rate of re-offending. This work is undertaken by many voluntary organisations, including those with a Christian basis, and it needs to be funded adequately and assessed appropriately if the Green Paper’s strategy is to succeed.”
Although not addressed by the Church of England in its statement, a significant amount of the consultation document proposes that offenders be offered more opportunities “to take part in restorative justice approaches” at several points in the criminal justice system.
The Howard League said it welcomed the Green Paper’s approach of involving the public and people working in the system in a discussion.
“The Howard League is particularly pleased that for the first time in a century some thought has gone into what long term prisoners will do all day with the introduction of real work, something the charity has pioneered and championed for a decade” Crook said.
“Changes to make community sentences more prompt and intense should enhance public safety. While there is good practice in pockets across the country, too many community sentences don’t take place for weeks or even months after a court conviction and then people are expected to do the odd day or two for many months, setting them up to fail. Community sentences should be designed to make amends to victims and local communities and must be proportionate and brisk.
“The Howard League awards have celebrated some of the most successful community schemes in our annual Community Programme Awards, recognising that timely, robust community programmes produce lower reoffending rates and increased public safety. We have an open day this Friday with an award winner, Together Women Project, which produces a re-offending rate of just seven per cent compared to a national average of 54 per cent.
“Some issues that are going to be considered are a nod in the right direction: investment in drug recovery and improved links with the NHS to provide mental health services to keep people out of crime and out of the penal system; a review of the rehabilitation of offenders act so that people can get a job and rejoin society when they have lived crime free; increased judicial discretion for the sentencing of teenagers.”