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My Lords, it is always good to have the opportunity to follow the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, in debates of this kind. His consistent, powerful argument has been repeated in debate after debate in this place, and I just wish he was listened to where it really mattered. I should also like to place on record my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for having secured this debate. His record speaks for itself. His commitment in this area is quite extraordinary.
The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, referred to many offenders themselves being victims. This is a sad reality. During my years as president of the YMCA, I was privileged to do a certain amount of support work among those on the front line in young offender institutions. What I learned without any qualification was that so many of those youngsters were sad victims of society in one way and another. What was so telling was that, not infrequently, they were really afraid of their release into society because of what would meet them there. One of the things that has come across very powerfully in this debate is that, if effective work is to be done, co-operation—not just liaison—between those working outside and inside prison is vital, because people are individuals.
I remember a chief superintendent of police in Yorkshire, who was greatly respected and about to retire, saying to me that he had come to one conclusion in life, and that was that the moment of greatest significance was when a prisoner was being sentenced and sent down. It was a traumatic experience for everyone involved. Of course, in some ways it should be. Some carried it off with bravado; others were devastated. He had become certain that the moment at which that prisoner went below, having been sent down, was the moment when, ideally in society, somebody should take him by the arm and say, “Now, come on. How are we going to sort all this out?” What you needed from then on was a recognition that it was an individual with whom you were dealing and that meeting the challenges of individuals in the process of rehabilitation was crucial.
I just despair, because it seems to me that, rationally, in any humane society rehabilitation is crucial to ensuring the well-being of criminals, reducing the cost to society of reoffending and having a chance of seeing people who have the potential to be decent, participatory citizens reaching that point. At the moment, so many of our prisons are an absolute disgrace and completely counterproductive: self-harm, suicide, violence, overcrowding and inhumane conditions. How can that provide a context in which there is any hope of achieving effective rehabilitation?
I was struck by what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said in this context in his concluding remarks. We have a Government which are setting their face in the opposite direction. Nowhere are evidence-based policy-making and rationality more essential. Populism and gallery playing have absolutely no place if we are to take seriously the rehabilitation of offenders and win the battle for humanity. I am very sad indeed to see the Government leading in precisely the wrong direction.