Lessons for the Coalition: an end of term report on New Labour and criminal justice

Edited by Arianna Silvestri
Monday, 31 January 2011

New light is shed on the challenges facing the coalition in reforming the criminal justice system, with the publication of a report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. In a collection of essays by leading thinkers and commentators, the report Lessons for the coalition, critiques the many innovations and the numerous failings on criminal justice during Labour's period in office. It also offers pointers to the coalition government of what not to do and on what needs changing.

Professor Andrew Sanders of the University of Birmingham warns that one third of the prison population is likely to be serving indefinite prison sentences by 2012. His concerns are shared by the President of the Prison Governors Association Eoin McLennan-Murray, who describes Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection as a `stain on our criminal justice system' that has left an `indelible scar on the prison service'. McLennan-Murray also critiques the original structure of Labour's National Offender Management Service as `a dysfunctional duplicate of already large prison service headquarters' that has been `very successful at increasing the level of bureaucracy'.

Professor Andrew Ashworth of the University of Oxford also expresses concern about Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection, describing them as `a policy-making disaster'. He calls on the coalition to undertake some `fundamental re-thinking' on sentencing. This should include a reassessment of the roles of the police, Crown Prosecution Service and magistrates' courts; a reaffirmation of the right to a fair trial; a re-examination of justifications for the UK's high imprisonment rate and a commitment to evidence-based policy.

On the coalition's plans for a `rehabilitation revolution', David Faulkner, a former senior Home Office civil servant, argues that `no connection have been made between the "rehabilitation revolution" and the social conditions... which would enable it to take place, including the consequences which might follow from the government's programmes in other areas of social policy such as employment, housing and support for families'. Faulkner goes on to argue that `one of the test for the coalition government... will be the extent to which it can bring together the political vision of a "big society" and the professional and managerial wisdom that is needed to "make things work"'.

Other contributions to Lessons for the coalition include:

  • Professor Rod Morgan, former chair of the Youth Justice Board, predicts that `cut-backs in "law and order" expenditure during the period 2011-2014 will almost certainly see a continuation of, possibly an increase in, the policy of imposing criminal sanctions out-of-court by the police and CPS'.
  • Dr Annette Ballinger of Keele University concludes that Labour's initiatives on violence against women were failures `leaving women exposed to unchallenged and unchecked male violence'.
  • On control orders Professor Andrew Sanders argues that in most cases they have been used to disrupt `groups with only the most speculative and tangential relationship with terrorism'.
  • Professor Tim Hope of the University of Salford argues that Labour's `achievement with the crime trend has been less to do with its efforts and more to do with its skill in rigging the examination system'.
  • Professor Reece Walters of The Open University argues that `the so-called environmental successes under New Labour are already threatened by the proposals of the coalition... where environmental issues, such as green house gas emissions have been overshadowed by economic recovery and fiscal restraint'.

Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

`Criminal justice policy making is bedevilled by short-memories and the repetition of the same mistakes. This report critiques New Labour's criminal justice legacy, using it as a platform to reflect on the policy challenge for the coalition government going forward.'

Arianna Silvestri, Research and Policy Associate at the Centre and editor of the report said:

`We are grateful to our group of highly esteemed contributors, who have had a hard look at the criminal justice landscape pre- and during Labour and at the challenges and opportunities now presented to the current government. We hope this will encourage an informed and reasoned debate on where we go, and what we can achieve, with our criminal justice system'.