Offenders (Day of Release from Detention) Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:43 pm on 21 April 2023.

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Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 12:43, 21 April 2023

I thank noble Lords for that wonderful discussion, which added to things to underline the importance of this issue. I am glad that we broadened the argument out. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked why we have not done it before. It is a wonderful thing to be reminded of that. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that you need a job, somewhere to go, a relationship and a place to live and that, if those things are not there, woe betide you when you enter the real world that lives out there.

When I left my custodial sentences behind me, the most interesting thing was the fear. I did not quite know what I was doing, even though I had a family and friends. It was a sense of loss of order and structure. We should never forget that a lot of people who commit crime come from shambolic backgrounds, with enormous stress and emotional and psychological damage. I was a very damaged boy. When you go into a custodial sentence, there are many minuses—you lose your freedom and your decision-making—but sometimes there is the building of comradeship. If you have good screws—sorry, prison officers—who are interested in what you are doing, you almost have a replacement for your family.

I am all for restorative justice. I would have put that farmer on a little boat and made him do it 24 hours a day. It is great to talk about restorative things, but you are dealing with damaged children, and they are our damaged children; 90% of them will be the inheritors of poverty, not people who come from the top drawer. Occasionally you would meet an old Etonian when you were banged up, but it was largely “sex and drugs and rock & roll” that got them there, and we were all very jealous of them. Let us make the prisons work by a process of triangulation. There is the justice system, the education system and the health system. They should all be brought together to make the most of that experience for those troubled children. When a man points a knife at you or throws a brick at you, it is not because he was born with a knife or a brick in his hand. It is because of what has happened to him because of the adult world that we live in. One of the greatest things we can do is to say, “Okay, your life has been bad, but let’s try to make changes”.

When I was in the custodial system as a boy and a young man, quite a lot of people there were looking out for us. They were not great psychologists, but they were looking out for us. I would like to see ordinary people encouraged to come into the custodial system to help and support. I would like to see not just psychiatrists but nurses and teachers in there. I would like to see the people saying, “You are special enough to be locked up, but you are also special enough to assist, so that when you leave, you are special enough to rejoin the rest of the world”.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.