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Frances Crook's blog · 18 May 2017

Reviewing the Manifestos: Liberal Democrats

Frances Crook in front of office bookshelves

I am going to review each of the main party manifestos, starting with the Liberal Democrats.

I welcome the fact the party manifesto clearly states that there are too many people in prison. This is an important and principled statement. However, there is no indication of how the party would really address and solve the problem. Indeed, some the other proposals are contradictory and might well increase the use of prison. There is a lot missing, and rather an odd hotchpotch of proposals.

I tend to think politicians should, as far as possible, introduce policies that are based on evidence and experience. I appreciate that during an election this may be challenging and the tendency is to kowtow to various pressures and include what may sound appealing to the public.

I assume this is what happened with the frankly bizarre idea of introducing weekend and evening imprisonment. Over the years various individuals have come up with this bright idea, only to realise quickly that it is pointless, expensive and impracticable. It also undermines the Lib Dems’ commitment to introduce a presumption against short prison sentences. We should simply stop sending people to prison for short periods as it is well known to be simply damaging, as indeed would be evening and weekend imprisonment.

The extension of community justice panels and restorative justice to reduce conflict and resolve problems would be very welcome

The extension of community justice panels and restorative justice to reduce conflict and resolve problems would be very welcome. It is an interesting idea that victims would be able to request a restorative solution instead of a prison sentence – I don’t know how judges would feel about that, but I would like to see an experiment.

I don’t like the idea of extending the powers of the Youth Justice Board to cover people up to the age of 21. Children are different in law and in fact require extra special protection and expertise. The Howard League has been working to develop particular principles and structures for young adults but that does not include lumping them in with children.

The manifesto says that prisons should be places of rehabilitation, recovery, education and work. This is simply impossible whilst over 20,000 men are forced into sharing cells, whilst new prison are being built that force men to share tiny cells and have an open toilet, whilst there are just too many in the system.

The over-representation of people of a BAME background at every stage of the criminal justice system is a major problem and the Lib Dem manifesto says that the party will address this, based on the findings and recommendations of the review being conducted by David Lammy.

Finally, the idea of securing criminal legal aid from other sources sounds very odd. The fundamental responsibility of government is to keep citizens safe and create a framework for justice. This means it must provide the means to achieve justice and legal aid from public funding is therefore not just essential, it is fair.

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