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8 Nov 2019

General Election 2019: Party leaders urged to temper language and promote evidence-based policies on law and order

The Howard League for Penal Reform has called on political parties to temper their language on law and order and promote evidence-based policies during the general election campaign.

With voters heading to the polls in less than five weeks’ time to decide the future of the country, the Howard League has written to party leaders to ask that “sensitive issues of intense public concern are not exploited but are used to contribute to a reasoned and constructive public debate”.

The letter, which is co-signed by 15 other criminal justice organisations, states: “We all want to reduce crime and prevent victims, and we want policies and practices that promote a safer society.

“As organisations with expertise in criminal justice and social justice we ask that you provide a positive model for your party and the country.”

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “A general election is a golden opportunity for people to have their say on how the country moves forward. The outcome will affect everyone, so it is vital that campaign promises reflect reality.

“Our letter, signed by organisations with many years of experience and expertise, conveys a simple message. We call on anyone developing policies or involved in discussions about law and order during the election period to base what they are saying on the evidence and to temper their language accordingly.

“The evidence is clear on what helps people to desist from crime; indeed, it was published by the Ministry of Justice only five weeks ago. Political parties have never had more information about the steps to take to reduce crime and make the public safer.”

Last month, the Ministry of Justice published an evidence-based summary explaining how to help someone desist from crime.

The summary, which is informed by independent academic peer review, states: “Social scientists have studied desistance for nearly three decades now. This is to understand common patterns experienced by people in their desistance journeys.

“We now have enough research evidence to guide us in helping people desist.”

Actions that help people to desist from crime include: conveying a belief in them and a sense of hope and optimism about how they can live a better life and about their future; providing opportunities to find and keep suitable housing; providing opportunities to gain employability schools and meaningful work experience; supporting them to develop and maintain positive relationships with family members; and helping them to recognise what they can give to others, or contribute to their community.

The summary also lists actions that do not help, including: trying to ‘scare’ someone out of crime, by focusing on the damaging consequences; using language and labels that confirm a criminal identity; only focusing on the risk of reoffending; making decisions about someone rather than with them; and telling someone you have given up on them.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  2. The letter to party leaders has been signed by the following organisations: Howard League for Penal Reform; Article 39; Barrow Cadbury Trust; Become; Centre for Crime and Justice Studies; Clinks; Criminal Justice Alliance; Justice; Liberty; Nacro; Prison Governors’ Association; Prison Reform Trust; Revolving Doors Agency; Transform Justice; Transition to Adulthood Alliance; and Women in Prison. The letter can be read on the Howard League website.
  3. The Ministry of Justice published an evidence-based summary on desistance on Thursday 3 October. It can be read online.


Rob Preece
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