Wednesday 21 December 2011

"It isn’t when somebody leaves prison; it's what leaves prison."

The quote in the title is from Barry Mizen. Back in 2008, Barry’s son Jimmy was murdered in Lee, south-east London. In response to this tragedy, Jimmy’s family created the Jimmy Mizen foundation and his father Barry Mizen now works as a spokesman for the charity, contributing a chapter to the Fabian’s Society’s new pamphlet ‘Punishment and Reform’.

This is a guest post by Kenneth Way, Media Intern at the Fabian Society.

Speaking at the launch of the Fabian Society's pamphlet 'Punishment and Reform', Barry Mizen articulated a call for a nationwide rethink on the criminal justice system, which argued for a firmer focus on rehabilitation and underlined the failures of the current system.

With an attitude emanating from a deeply personal perspective, Barry is the type of individual who should be informing the upcoming Labour policy review and the debate on criminal justice in the UK. His passion, honesty and inspiration serves as a reminder that the media’s ‘eye for an eye mentality’ is unhelpful and often a hindrance. Instead, Barry’s approach underlines the merits of proper investment in reformative solutions rather than pure punishment and wider adoption of this model could offer an opportunity to stem the growing prison population.

It’s without argument that reaching this opinion is difficult. In fact, Barry made it very clear that his viewpoint is a result of the failures of the current system, claiming, “If harsher punishment worked then I believe me I would be the first to call for it.” However, the past few years have taught Barry that in practice harsher punishments achieve little.

In fact, as Barry informed the audience in attendance, during his son’s sixteen-year life the prison population rose from 40,000 in 1992 to 80,000 in 2008. To steal a line from the man himself: Has society got double as many criminals now as it did then? The answer to this question would have to be a resounding ‘No’. Sadiq Khan MP succinctly expressed this view, arguing we as a society are failing and our communities are failing. As a result of this worrying status quo, the new Fabian pamphlet presents an overdue and welcome opportunity to critique the criminal justice system.

Embedded in this rethink Sadiq Khan MP, who wrote the introduction, emphasises the need to put victims at the heart of the justice system. In this remodeling of the justice system, Khan believes that, “a significant shift in attitudes to and treatment of victims is required”. The Shadow Justice Secretary has spent some eighteen months with the brief, and this collabortation with the Fabian Society comes within sight of the Labour Party’s upcoming policy review.
With this in mind, event chair and Telegraph journalist Mary Riddell identified the retributive mindset of the public and media, which reached unquestionably high levels in the aftermath of the summer's riots, and austerity as the two catalysts responsible for the current prison population. To put it simply, with around half of all adults reoffending within a year of their release the criminal justice system is failing.

Considering this abysmal record on reforming offenders, Mary Riddell asked the panel: Are the perpetrators of crime also victims? Bearing in mind the public’s and more importantly the media’s attitude towards crime, this is a challenging argument to win, but Mizen gives this position credence with an approach alien to many. Coupling this notion with our growing prison population means we cannot afford to dismiss this position as pure idealistic sentimentality.
As Khan, Mizen and the pamphlet suggest we indisputably require a fresh approach.

‘Punishment and Reform’ claims victims should be involved in the judicial process, instead of baying for blood, we should be careful and deliver justice with rational heads. Alongside this, rehabilitation must conquer retribution. Preventive techniques and a focus on early intervention could be key to this rethink and provide us with a criminal justice system many may not feel they want, but definitely the system we need.

Mary Riddel's take on the event and pamphlet can be read here

1 comment:

Renideo said...

I'm just now about to sit down and read through it. I have a keen interest in this, though I came at it through an economics background.

The US has an astonishingly high rate of imprisonment, perhaps five times that of the highest in Europe. The costs of keeping those people in prison, the effects on family members, spouses and children of the imprisoned, and the nature of the racial and economic profile involved are all deeply damning.

Inexorably prisoners are taken from similar places, geographically, culturally and economically and their experience of violence, of absence from parenthood, and of economic privation swiftly contribute to growing structures of nested criminality, resistent to incremental policy solutions and easily feared and reviled by those more fortunately placed.

Of course the US has a lot of unusual traits, but some it shares with us, including, notably, the higher than normal level of inequality.

In the wake of the riots earlier this year, I know we've all turned our minds more than ever to the deep causal questions which lie at the centre of justice policy. I look forward to reading the pamphlet, and thanks for the introduction to it.