Georgia Hussey offers her views on the latest Fabian pamphlet launch.
Speaking at the launch of the Fabian Society’s ‘Punishment and Reform’ report, Sadiq Khan emphasised the need to put victims at the heart of the justice system. Khan has stressed the need to reshape the way victims are involved in the justice process, calling for a “significant shift in attitudes to and treatment of victims”.
Victim support is an area the Government appear to be falling behind on; discussing his victim support package in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Ken Clarke’s mention of victims of terrorism sparked criticism from Sadiq Khan. The Shadow Justice Secretary said that “after more than a year of delay, victims of overseas terrorism are still waiting for the compensation promised by this Government”.
But dealing with offenders should be key in any criminal justice policy, and the report, which hopes to inform the conclusions of the Labour Party’s policy review, showed a heavy focus on preventing people becoming offenders and re-offenders.
Barry Mizen’s presence at the launch steered the debate away from Khan’s focus on victims. Mizen, whose son was murdered in 2008, brought first-hand experience of how victims are involved in the justice system. However, as Mary Riddell, the chair of the debate, pointed out, Barry Mizen is not the ‘typical’ passive victim. He and his wife Margaret set up the Jimmy Mizen Foundation after their son’s death, which has helped many young people take on a positive role in their community. This kind of approach, he said, helps them become “responsible citizens in their communities”. As he writes in his chapter of the pamphlet, “getting justice for Jimmy was not just about punishment for his killer, it was about finding and exposing the truth of what happened to our son. What can we do to ensure young people don’t resort to violence against each other?”. His presence steered the discussion towards prevention, and supporting young people who might otherwise become offenders.
Adding another important voice to the ‘Punishment and Reform’ report was Baroness Jean Corston, who focused on female offenders in her contribution to the pamphlet. She noted that only 3.2% of women in prison are considered a ‘danger to the public’, but over 75% exhibit some kind of psychological disturbance. With an overwhelming majority of offenders being male, women are often overlooked in criminal justice policy. But these figures clearly show that many of the women in prison are “troubled rather than troublesome”. Any new criminal justice policy should incorporate ways to tackle this issue, and Cortson stresses the importance of giving those women an alternative to offending and reoffending. Early diversion into the mental health system instead of the prison system is key, and crucial support from women’s centres will help them get support, qualifications and skills that aren’t otherwise available to them.
Sadiq Khan’s call for a change in how the criminal justice system treats victims is a clear way to improve the system for the people in it, at little cost. However the debate must always centre on the offenders and on prevention. Greater support for victims cannot encroach on a commitment to eradicating a need for victim support; we need to work towards a society where there are no victims. Getting people more involved in their community, whether in a women’s centre or on youth projects, is a proven way to prevent people becoming offenders. Barry Mizen wrote that “trying to foster more civility and humanity in all aspects of life – from schools, to the streets, to prisons – is the only way to counter the incivility and violence”. This aim should not be forgotten.
Georgia Hussey is an intern at the Fabian Society.