Putting fairness at the heart of our justice system
How the UK can build a justice system with fairness at its heart
My name is Lauren and I’m absolutely delighted to be the new Justice Spokesperson for Centre. I’ve long admired the work that has already been done, and I’m so excited to get started. Alongside this role, I am Co-Chair of Open Labour’s Justice Reform Working Group, as well as Secretary of the Young Fabians Criminal Justice Network which I co-founded. My background is in Criminology, and I have just finished my MSc in Criminal Justice – specialising in the study of social harm in relation to capitalism.
My primary policy aim with Centre is to continue advocating for a Norway-style, publicly-run prison system, with rehabilitation the key aim. This is what brought me to Centre in the first place, and I intend to keep pushing for it. Not only does the Norwegian system result in dramatically lower reoffending rates, it is far more grounded in respect for human rights and dignity. Evidence-based, rational policies are what I stand for – whether in Justice or in any other area. Too often, emotive rhetoric is allowed to monopolise discussions on Justice, and this should not be allowed to continue. Progressives must have these difficult conversations and debates on their own terms – not be dragged onto the territory of punitive populism.
We have seen far too often how the Justice system is grossly unequal, along all intersectional lines. Justice should truly be blind – there should be no double standards or stereotyping. Offences that result from prosecution under Joint Enterprise laws, for example, are being used to jail predominantly working class and/or BAME young men. Prisons are becoming places to warehouse already marginalised demographics, and with plans to increase prison places in England and Wales, this is a problem which will only get worse. Therefore, demanding an end to inequality and racial bias, and opposing the expansion of the penal dragnet are other policy priorities of mine.
Underpinning all of this, and applied to the whole system, is a need for early interventions and a public health approach to issues such as knife crime and drug policy. We should be encouraging more funding for these schemes – for example, the brilliant safe consumption rooms for drugs being run in Glasgow by Peter Krykant and former Labour MP Paul Sweeney. It goes without saying that I support the legalisation of cannabis, and would want to look at decriminalising (with the possibility of legalising) other drugs, too. As a society, if we’re serious about preventing avoidable deaths and misery, we should be seriously considering a change of tact.
I’m under no illusions that there is a challenge ahead when setting out the progressive case for Justice, but Centre can play a part in winning hearts and minds, in a non-partisan way. There is often a disconnect between the policies that are palatable to the public, and the policies that actually work. For example, until 2014, 54% of the British public supported the death penalty, despite a wealth of evidence demonstrating it does not deter criminals.
I would like to see serious attempts to redress corporate and white-collar crime, as I feel there is far too often a tendency to “punch down” and target individualised, less harmful offences. All the while, incredibly powerful individuals and corporations get away with their crimes. The Grenfell Tower disaster is an example of how lack of accountability, political unwillingness to respond robustly and unbridled corporate power can lead to tragedy. Grenfell was not the first and it won’t be the last incident of its kind – but until we have a Justice system that doesn’t give corporate criminals bureaucratic loopholes to hide behind, nothing will change.
I am looking forward to working alongside colleagues from different parties, collaborating to bring our vision for the UK to fruition. A chance to hear different ideas and step out of the Labour bubble was a hugely appealing factor in my decision to join Centre – and I would encourage people of all political parties to do the same. As is the nature of politics, we may disagree on some issues, but where we find common ground, we can forge a path forward and demand better.
About the author
Lauren is the co-Policy Officer for Open labour, the Secretary of the Young Fabians Criminal Justice Network and has a Masters in Criminology.