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My Lords, I too am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for initiating this important debate and for his wise, insightful opening remarks, particularly recommending a proper strategy going forward. I shall focus on two areas: the importance of relationships in the rehabilitation process, and the need for reform of the way convictions are deemed to be spent, so that rehabilitation is a meaningful concept for as many as possible.
I have talked before in this House about the two reviews I was asked to lead by the Ministry of Justice. The first reported on the importance of strengthening male prisoners’ family and other relationships to prevent reoffending and intergenerational crime. The second took a broader look at the same issue for female offenders and included those serving a custodial or community sentence, women who had been diverted away from the courts and women who were re-entering society post release. For both males and females, research consistently points to a simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it. That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.
Professor Nicola Lacey from the LSE expresses this well by pointing out that, for most of the two centuries in which imprisonment has been routinely imposed as punishment for crime, the systems of thought and governance on which this rests have,
“focused on the individual offender and his or her relationship with the state ... Penal philosophy’s strongly individualistic presuppositions about the nature of human beings and social relations are open to challenge”.
Enabling men and women to maintain their caring responsibilities to the fullest extent possible, where appropriate, provides much-needed motivation for their personal reform and helps break the cycle of inter- generational crime—hence my recommendation in the female review that prisons employ social workers. Their case load will be the women inside and they will be in a strong position to liaise and negotiate with children’s social workers outside so that the best interests of the child take precedence. Similarly, Skype-type technology will enable children and their mothers to see each other—again, where it is agreed that this will mitigate the pain of separation and not add to children’s anxiety.
When we look at the profile of our prison and wider offender populations, the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences, ACEs, is salient. ACEs include abuse or neglect, exposure to domestic violence, parental substance misuse, parental mental health problems, parental divorce and separation, parental incarceration and, in some studies, bereavement. All of these mediate the extent to which children will experience safe, stable and nurturing relationships. Public Health Wales found that adults are 20 times more likely to be incarcerated at some point in their life if they have experienced four or more ACEs. Unsurprisingly, therefore, children whose home lives were so difficult that they were taken into local authority care are grossly overrepresented in the prison population. A quarter of men and almost a third of women in prison spent time in care as children.
We are becoming increasingly aware that the lack of good relationships—especially where there are other adversities, often reaching back into childhood—is a major risk factor for criminal activity. This can never excuse crime, nor ignore personal responsibility and the consequences for victims, but it does help to explain it. The implementation team in the Ministry of Justice is working with prisons to ensure that cultural change is taking place to reflect this awareness. It is a long, slow process, but the statistics suggest that it will be a game changer for rehabilitation.
This relational, ACE-aware approach also needs to permeate other aspects of criminal justice, particularly the issue of spent convictions. By way of illustration, 70% of sex workers have been in care, and multiple convictions for prostitution can destroy a woman’s chance of securing a wide range of employment for a considerable time. Former prostitutes won their case at the High Court against the requirement that they must disclose their convictions to employers. They said they had been “groomed, pimped and trafficked” and that their criminal records could be seen also as a catalogue of the abuse meted out to them from a time when they were vulnerable minors.
More broadly, Unlock states that, every year, more than 7,000 people receive a conviction of more than four years which will never become spent. In their words, this amounts to,
“an invisible punishment that will forever shadow the individual, preventing full rehabilitation and meaningful employment even after completing the sentence”.
Protecting current and future victims is obviously of paramount concern, and reforms must continue to balance out competing needs. But many who have served time have been victims too. Will the Government look again at reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 from the vantage point of what we now know about adverse childhood experiences and the harrowing ramifications which flow from a lack of good relationships?