QUAKERS IN BRITAIN have welcomed a report which shows that the dramatic rise in long prison sentences does not help victims, offenders or the public. 

The Independent Commission into the Experience of Victims and Long-term Prisoners, led by Bishop James Jones, former bishop of Liverpool and of prisons, released its report, Making Sense of Sentencing. Doing justice to both victim and prisoner on Wednesday, 15 June, after two and a half years. It calls for a national debate on serious crime sentencing, backed by a Law Commission review, a citizen’s assembly and better public understanding of sentencing.

The number of people given a prison sentence of 10 years and above has more than doubled in a decade but the public remain dissatisfied and victims feel unsafe, traumatised and neglected.

Quakers say that swingeing cuts to prison services, and a focus on retribution, had left prisoners serving long sentences with no help, despite rehabilitation being a legal basis for sentences, and essential to make society safer. “Serious crime is life-changing, for both perpetrators and victims and their families, but rehabilitation, or the potential for healing of wounds inflicted by the crime and its punishment, is largely overlooked in a criminal justice system focused on retribution”, said Tim Newell, former prison governor and Quaker restorative justice expert.

The Commission’s call for improved access to restorative justice for victims and prisoners was welcomed by Quakers, who have worked for prison reform since the 17th century, thanks to both the Quaker testimony to equality and their own experiences of being imprisoned as members of a radical faith.

Today, 80 Quaker prison chaplains work across the country and others are involved in probation, prison reform and more. Their work shows that victims and communities can heal when offenders take some responsibility and make restoration for the harm to all.

One Quaker prison chaplain said: “Over last 25 years there have been two tremendous cutbacks in staffing levels which we haven’t come back from. Provision has been decimated.The Government is proposing to increase the prison population by 45 per cent, but without resources. There is nothing for rehabilitation, just punishment and incarceration. Everybody is being treated like a hostage coming down a conveyor belt.Prisoners are getting steadily older, there are more disabled, more dying of cancer and MS.”

* Read the Commission’s report here.

* Source: Quakers in Britain