Why penal reform should be a conservative issue
Jul 17, 2009
By Dan Van Ness
As reported earlier on RJOB, the Commission on Prisons Today recently released its report, Do Better, Do Less. Among other things it argues for expanded use of restorative justice programmes and policies.
One of the Commission members was Ian Loader, Professor of Criminology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of All Souls College. In an article on conservativehome.blogs.com, the website of the British Conservative Party, he argues that conservatives should be at the forefront of penal reform.
The Commission – on which I was proud to serve – argues for a change of direction. It is time, its report says, for English society to stop bingeing on prisons, to radically scale back its dependence on incarceration as the path to social order. To this end, the report suggests breaking with national government interference and targets in favour of localism in criminal justice policy. It makes a powerful case for re-directing the prison budget towards non-penal, community-based methods of reducing crime and re-offending – an approach known as ‘justice reinvestment’. It argues for expanding the use of restorative justice – a justice innovation that is a proven success.
All this is underpinned by the new public philosophy of punishment that our society pressingly requires – what we call penal moderation. This urges restraint in how English society talks about and delivers punishment; calls upon us to recognize and reap the benefits of a minimum necessary penal system, and demands a criminal justice system which treats all whose lives are caught within it with human dignity. Moderation, we argue, is an idea whose time has come - one that fits a dawning era of regulated responsibility in economic and social policy.
But why should these proposals for penal change appeal to those of a conservative disposition, or inform the policies of any future Conservative government? Several reasons suggest themselves. Two of them are obvious, a further three rather less so.