Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 20th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 4:45 pm, 20th March 2012

My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity to support my noble friend. I had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee on Human Rights when she was its distinguished chair. I then had the opportunity to see at first hand that this is not a passing interest of hers; it is something deeply rooted in her culture and in her sense of justice and the availability of justice for everyone. If justice, in its fullest sense, is to be delivered, what matters is the appropriateness of what is being done when someone is sentenced. It is not only my noble friend who in her very challenging report has spelt out the issues, but I am repeatedly impressed by the research which seems to come to the same conclusion that the overwhelming majority of women in prison should not be in prison at all.

I vividly recall visiting Holloway prison with the Joint Committee on Human Rights-I am not certain that my noble friend was the chair at the time-in connection with some work that we were doing. While we were there we got into very good conversation with some of the staff. It is easy to be prejudiced, but for me it is always interesting that in a place like Holloway you find a mix of people in the profession, including some very good, caring people who-for any of us who would want to be seen as humanitarians-are living a very challenging life in the front line of their professional services. I remember-and this was dealing specifically with short sentences-one woman turning on us in exasperation and saying: "I don't think you people know what you are doing. We don't understand what you are doing. These women's lives are a story of chaos, and all we do by having the women in here for a short term is to increase the chaos in their life in terms of their relationship with their children, their relationship with the community of which they are a part, their relationship with life as they have got to live it". Then she looked back a little poignantly and said: "Unless, of course, by having them in here for a few days we relieve them of some of the nightmare of pressures outside".

It is an indictment of us all that we have such an inappropriate, wrong-headed approach towards how we deal with women who may have been caught up in some offence. From that standpoint, it is clear that there has to be an interdisciplinary approach. The problem-the challenge-goes across all sorts of different aspects of life. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, repeatedly reminds us in debates on such occasions, if you are trying to get a change of culture and drive through a new approach, you have to pin down who is really responsible. You have got to have specific arrangements in place to make sure it happens and that it is pursued. This is what my noble friend's amendment is about: making sure that we stop talking about what is wrong, stop talking about what we should all be doing, and start to do it. If that is to happen, it needs a cross-section of people with a specific responsibility for which they are accountable to make sure it is happening. From that standpoint, I warmly commend the amendment and am glad to support it.