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Friday, July 23, 2010

Crispin Blunt: "Churchill Speech" in full...

Crispin Blunt: "Churchill Speech" in full...

Justice Minister, Crispin Blunt, has given a speech on the direction and reform of the criminal justice system at NACRO, West Norwood Centre

22 July 2010

NACRO, West Norwood Centre


Churchill’s parliamentary career lasted well over half a century and inevitably contained some less than successful moments. But what defined him was his ability to call the big the great issues right and to encapsulate them in soaring rhetoric, that in 1940 rallied the whole of the free world in the face of tyranny. In 30 years time people will be marking the 100th anniversary of those speeches. I’m delighted to mark 30 years sooner the 100th anniversary of as great a speech dealing with crime and criminality.

On 20th July 1910 he made the following observation in the House of Commons:

'The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.'

(Winston Churchill, Home Secretary, House of Commons, July 20th, 1910)

What has happened to our civilisation against this test in the last 100 years.? Anyone sharing Churchill’s analysis and his humanity in 1910 would be astonished at some of today’s popular attitudes to crime and punishment, certainly those expressed in the less reflective parts of the media. But they would also be appalled by much of the history of the succeeding 100 years in which Churchill played such a prominent part, when man’s inhumanity to man was all too evident, usually on the basis of race or religion let alone where individuals might be expected to have responsibility for their actions as criminals. By this test,and others, our civilisation hasn’t much improved in the last century.

Penal reform was a controversial issue in 1910. It is controversial today. But I have detected a shift in opinion in the wake of the Justice Secretary’s recent speech on how we address offenders, not least in our use of prison in this country. A shift Churchill would have approved.

100 years ago Churchill wound up his address with this incredibly powerful peroration:

‘A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state, and even of convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerating processes, and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.’

It could not be more appropriate than to mark this centenary than with Nacro, with your own long and admirable history, and being the nation’s leading organization wholly true to the values Churchill expressed so powerfully 100 years ago. Your vision for “a safer society where everyone belongs, human rights are respected and preventing crime means tackling social exclusion and re-integrating those who offend” may not quite scale the rhetorical heights of England’s greatest political speaker of the 20th century. But they are exactly the themes I want to talk about today: how we have progressed, or not, in the last 100 years.

Churchill had become Home Secretary in February 1910. He was passing through his Liberal phase, and would no doubt be delighted by the current alliance of his two old political homes.

His predecessor as Home Secretary, Herbert Gladstone, offered him some advice on taking up office. He suggested:

‘As regards prisons it won’t be a bad thing to give a harassed department some rest.’

So within 6 days of taking office he instigated a major reform of penal policy.

We are doing the same. As the Secretary of State set out in his speech on 30 June, the priorities of the Ministry are to punish offenders, protect the public and provide access to justice. But we want to initiate a more constructive approach to rehabilitation and sentencing, and re-think whether putting more and more people into custody really delivers on making people safer. We styled it a rehabilitation revolution in our programme for government. And now we are getting stuck into it. Churchill’s initiative has much in common with the opportunity open to us: to transform our criminal justice system and our attitude to, and treatment, of offenders.

So I am visiting as many prisons, probation trusts and youth offending teams across the country as I can. I want to hear the views of everyone working with offenders – the people at the sharp end who know what does and does not work. I want to find out more about their day to day challenges. I want to listen to how they would improve the system. I have already met many very good people out there, doing some very good work. I commend their commitment and professionalism. And I am proud to have overall responsibility for over 70,000 people managing offenders in the Prison and the Probation services.

But it is clear that in many areas the criminal justice system is just not working. It is failing the people who serve in that system, it is failing the offenders managed by that system and by their victims, now and in the future. It is failing the public.

In 1910 the system was also in need of urgent reform. Churchill made a number of proposals and on reading his speech it is extraordinary the number of his ideas that link to the challenges we face today.


First he altered the regulations for payments of fines. 90,000 people a year were committed to prison because they could not pay a fine immediately. Churchill proposed a period of grace to pay. A simple but effective measure to stop people going unnecessarily to prison.

Now there are many ways for offenders to pay fines. The days of thousands of fine defaulters being held in prison are thankfully long gone. But the fine remains important. We often forget that the fine is by far the most common sentence in the criminal courts. Fines play an important role: punishing offending but also offering reparation to victims of crime. But their use has declined. We need to ask why that is and what we can do about it. Financial compensation, to the victim directly and to society, should be an important part both of restorative justice and punishment. Restoration has played too limited a role in our justice system. I would argue it is good for the victim, good for the offender and good for society to examine how we can widen its role – and we will do so as major part of our assessment of sentencing and approach to rehabilitation.

Young offenders

The second major reform he proposed was on the treatment of young offenders, [those aged between 16 and 21] – another area where many were sent to prison unnecessarily. Many of these young offenders found themselves in prison because they also had not paid fines or had committed very minor offences. And Churchill saw there was clear evidence of a failure of social justice amongst those young people imprisoned:

‘It is an evil which falls only on the sons of the working classes. The sons of other classes may commit many of the same kind of offences and in boisterous and exuberant moments, whether at Oxford or anywhere else, may do things for which the working classes are committed to prison, although injury may not be inflicted on anyone.’

I do not know whether this has any connection to the conversion of Oxford Gaol into a luxury hotel, but then there may be connections between the nearest prison to Oxford these days HMP Bullingdon and other institutions of that name. I have yet to investigate these and, on reflection, probably won’t.

Oxford gaol’s conversion to a luxury hotel is an example of the imaginative use of the redundant prison estate we still need in order to modernise the estate. This is why the New Prisons Programme will continue. It gives us the chance to release parts of our estate that are plainly unfit for the 21st century and that includes HMP Lancaster Castle, which has been a gaol since the 12th century. I am pleased to say that today we are opening discussions with Lancaster City Council and the Duchy of Lancaster with the intention of returning the prison to the Duchy of Lancaster who own the site and potentially turning the building into a heritage site – a rather more appropriate use for this castle than remaining a part of the prison estate.

Today we are not wrestling with the same offences committed by different social groups being dealt with differently. We are dealing with the impact of social failure upon the justice system. To take one startling example, around a quarter of prisoners were in care as children.

Churchill’s response was to propose a “defaulter’s drill” a way of dealing with minor offences and mere rowdyism: to punish without imprisoning. And today our challenge is to deliver more effective community punishments to deal with anti-social behaviour and the failure to follow earlier community orders. The desperate resort of sentencers to short prison sentences in the absence of a viable alternative is exactly that. Desperate. Because we know short sentences are likely to significantly increase the chance of the offender reoffending after release.

It is virtually impossible to do anything productive with offenders on short sentences. And many of them end up losing their jobs, their homes and their families while inside. Part of our challenge today is to deliver more effective community punishments.

We need to find today’s equivalent of defaulters’ drill. We are looking carefully at the current delivery of community payback to see if we can make this more robust and a more credible vehicle for delivering both punishment in the community and restoration for society as a whole. There are good examples of effective community payback schemes, but there is too much evidence that there is all too much time spent in indolent weeding or rail painting whilst the only actual benefit is some community reassurance from offenders being seen in their fluorescent jackets apparently doing something. It would be so much better if the apparent action was real and of economic and social value. Offenders must be focused on project completion so it is in their interests to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. The orange jackets fulfil a purpose, but must be accompanied by a worthwhile task, properly led and goal oriented. This carries the possibility of giving offenders a sense of a job well done, which will contribute to their rehabilitation, as well of being of real value to the community.

Balancing the need for punishment and rehabilitation

But the quality that shines through Churchill’s speech is his humanity towards the offender. And we should not blind ourselves to the fact that in some ways we have made pitifully little progress since 1910. Today too many offenders need a great deal of support because of the hand played to them by circumstance. They have suffered abuse, we know that around half of women in prison have experienced domestic violence, and up to a third have been victims of sexual abuse. Many are isolated from or fail to have a support network of friends and family. They have been failed by absent parents. They have suffered childhood abuse. Many have failed in the education system, abused drugs and alcohol or ended up homeless. Nearly half of sentenced offenders have emotional wellbeing issues including mental health illness. One in three report that they have an accommodation ‘need’. These figures are shocking enough. But we believe the problem to be even greater. There is cycle to crime – from generation to generation. An estimated 160,000 children have a parent in prison; they are three times more likely to engage in anti-social, and delinquent behaviour than their peers, whilst 65% of boys with a convicted father go on to offend themselves.

I welcome the work that Iain Duncan Smith has done via the Centre for Social Justice and is doing as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to develop practical ideas to move from Breakdown Britain to breakthrough Britain. We now have a Cabinet Committee on Social Justice and it’s task will be to drive change across Whitehall to tackle the issues that put many young offenders into the criminal justice system in the first place.

Our Big Society vision is all about involving individuals , communities, and voluntary and community organisations - not just in tackling crime and re-offending but in helping to keep people out of the criminal justice system in the first place. We have to get the public,private and voluntary sector working together to address disadvantage and build stronger more purposeful communities in which diverse individuals have a stake. The Criminal Justice System is already a locally delivered service, and depends on ordinary people playing their part in delivering justice. But we want members of the public, communities, and non-governmental bodies to be even more involved in reducing crime and re-offending, and helping build confidence in the justice system. This includes increasing the role of the voluntary sector and social enterprises in working with offenders and ex offenders and making use of the enormous potential of volunteers to improve their communities. Already we have a huge number of dedicated volunteers working across the criminal justice system including 14,000 special constables; 30,000 volunteer magistrates, 6,500 volunteers in Victim Support and thousands more working in prisons and with offenders and ex-offenders in the community. Building the Big Society will also mean providing information at a local level so the public can hold agencies to account and local agencies are better informed when developing solutions to tackle and prevent crime.

A particular issue involves challenging families to tackle the cycle of crime from one generation to the next. The Justice Committee’s excellent report, ‘Cutting Crime: The Case for Justice Reinvestment,’ will inform our work. I want much greater recognition of the embedded links between poor social outcomes and crime and re-offending, right across communities and government. The ministerial group on homelessness offers us the chance for a step change in how we house offenders.

And the government is just as committed to welfare reform. So that work is the best solution for people, offering them a route out of poverty. And the best chance for offenders, providing them with the stability they need to stop offending and become someone who contributes to society, not damages it.

We are doing this because, as Churchill told the Commons, the first principle of prison reform:

‘…should be to prevent as many people getting there at all.’

Sentencing Debate

We all need to think through these social issues. And we need to have a proper debate about sentencing. It is too easy to appear tough on crime by raising the rhetoric on sentencing and by offering knee jerk responses to awful events. But hard cases make bad law and the debate has been far from constructive. Other European countries have managed to have sensible and balanced debates about penal policy. The quality of debate in this country has simply been too influenced by populist rhetoric.

So these attempts to appear ever tougher cannot go on. We just cannot continue to spend more on a system that does not have the trust of the public and which does not break the cycle of crime. We have a major opportunity – to think carefully, creatively and constructively about how we reform the criminal justice system. So that it protects the public better, prevents crime, rehabilitates offenders and cuts re-offending.

Short custodial sentences & persistent offenders

When Churchill proposed his reforms in 1910 he was accused of being “soft” on crime by some who did not actually choose to look at what he had proposed. Some things don’t change. Serious offenders who commit serious crimes are still going to go to prison. What the Justice Secretary called for was a more sensible way of dealing with offenders.

We need this debate because we are just not doing so at the moment. Around half of all crime is committed by people convicted in the past. And of that half, a small group of these are committing a disproportionately large number of offences. This much is clear: we are just not stopping the ‘revolving door’ of offenders in the criminal justice system. Most short sentenced prisoners receive no supervision or support on release. Half of all adult offenders reoffend within one year of release from prison – and the rate of re-offending has risen in recent years. And it is not just about adults, we need to manage young offenders effectively. And if you don’t get their treatment right, the young offenders of today are the repeat offenders of tomorrow. This must change.

We must end this cycle of re-offending. Time in prison must be more than the deprivation of liberty but an opportunity for offenders to gain skills so that they become productive members of society. Prisons must focus on getting offenders off drugs, into work and with support to find a home to go to. By doing this we can prepare offenders for release and we can help them to stop reoffending.

Having said that our system is failing in many regards this is particularly true of indeterminate sentences for public protection, universally known as IPPs. In 1910 indeterminate sentences were also a hot topic of debate. The House of Commons had recently rejected the idea of preventative detention but there was still pressure on Churchill to introduce indeterminate sentences. He resisted that pressure, saying:
‘I am opposed in principle to indeterminate detention except on purely medical grounds.’

IPPs have proved to be difficult for the courts and for prisons. Many offenders on IPP sentences haven’t been released from prison long after their tariffs have expired. The last government believed that these indeterminate sentences would add about 900 to the prison population. Today there are over 6,000 prisoners on IPPs and being added to at a rate of about 70 a month, meanwhile the Parole Board are releasing about one a week, with nearly 3,000 now in custody beyond their tariff for punishment. In my view the legislation on IPP sentences was drawn too widely meaning that some offenders should never have received an IPP but sentencers felt compelled by the law to impose one. The 2008 changes to the law which begin to restrict the use of IPP is one admission of these failings. Other offenders simply couldn’t in the time or with the resources available convince the Parole Board that they had addressed their offending behaviour. But IPPs have added thousands to prison numbers and the IPP population continues to grow.

There is an important debate to be had on indeterminate sentences and there have been some authoritative contributions already on IPPs from the Inspectorates and recently the Prison Reform Trust. We will present our proposals in the Green Paper, but I have not seen anything to suggest that Churchill’s instinct was not correct. So whilst this is without doubt a complex area, as many aspects of sentencing are. I welcome the debate on this issue and I hope that many of you will contribute to it.

Serious Offenders – Grendon & Frankland

Here however I want to emphasise an obvious but important point. Prisons and the supervision that follows have an important role in protecting the public from dangerous and violent offenders. Since my appointment I have visited both Frankland and Grendon Prisons, two prisons dealing with offenders who have committed serious crimes.

Grendon has six wings operating as autonomous therapeutic communities dealing with serious sex and violent offenders. I was, as many have been before, impressed by the approach of the staff and prisoners in those therapeutic circles. Such an approach may not be appropriate for all offenders and I recognize the cost of such intensive work, but I want to think about how that kind of treatment of offenders – with its focus on rehabilitation and treatment and not just on punishment - could be explored elsewhere in our prison estate.

This is no soft option. It is hard work. And we need to do it to stop crime in the future – and stop new victims of crime being created.
Arts and events in Prisons

I want to mention one other proposal from Churchill that struck a chord with me. Churchill noted that
‘we have got a class of men in our prisons who need brain food of the most ordinary character.’

He notes that

‘There have from time to time been occasional lectures given in the prisons, and a few months ago the Somerset Light Infantry, quartered near, had their band in Dartmoor Prison and it played to the convicts. It was an amazing thing the effect which was produced on all these poor people, and their letters for a month after had been eloquent in recognition of the fact.’

I have to say that not all Members of the Commons were quite as enthusiastic about military music with one suggesting that:

‘The music will be an added punishment to some.’

But there is a serious point here. We recognise that arts activities can play a valuable role in helping offenders to address issues such as communication problems and low self-esteem and enabling them to engage in programmes that address their offending behaviour I confess before getting this job I was not aware of Prison Service Instruction number 50 of 2008, though was vaguely conscious of some row in the tabloids about offenders being recorded as enjoying themselves. As a measure it was typical of the last administration’s flakiness under pressure. At the slightest whiff of criticism from the popular press policy tended to get changed and the consequence of an absurd overreaction to offenders being exposed to comedy in prison was this deleterious, damaging and daft instruction. I’m pleased to have marked the actual day of the 100th anniversary of Churchill’s speech on Tuesday by rescinding it.

The Challenges

I have outlined some of the challenges we face with young offenders, with persistent offenders and with the culture of the debate about penal policy. This has led to more and more offenders being locked up for longer and longer without making a real difference to their rehabilitation. Let me add a few more challenges.

We face the harsh reality of rescuing the public finances or as the Justice Secretary so pithily put it in our area of responsibility effecting a change from an era of policy making with a chequebook in one hand and the Daily Mail in the other. Our ambition to reform the system must be seen in the context of the constraints on the public finances. Achieving savings will mean driving value for money and delivering more from less. But ultimately the test of an effective criminal justice system is not the money poured into it, but on its results. Over the summer we will be developing options on how we serve the public in the future with a significantly lower budget.

I have talked a lot today about offenders. For every offender, there is a victim, whether that victim is an individual, a business or the public at large. And we rely on victims and the public to engage with the system, to report crime, and to come forward to give evidence. While criminal justice agencies have begun to do more to support victims through the justice process, there are still too many times when victims falls through the cracks. A survey of victims suggests, for example, that less than half (43%) are say they were offered the chance to make a Victim Personal Statement so they can make clear the impact the crime has had on them. And less than half (42%) of victims say they have the meaning of sentences explained to them by the criminal justice agencies. So which I suppose is hardly suprising given the difficulty of explaining current sentences and what they actually might mean. Alongside our plans for a rehabilitation revolution, we will also be considering how we can ensure that those victims who need help to recover from crime receive the right support at the right time.

And finally, our sentencing framework itself presents a challenge. It is highly complicated, utterly confusing and ultimately disingenuous. Sentences bear no resemblance to the time actually served in prison. This leads to confusion for victims of crime. It creates a sense of injustice when the public discover that a criminal will actually serve a much shorter time in prison than was specified in court, and undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole. Our challenge is to bring consistency, honest and transparency to sentencing – for the public, victims of crime and practitioners.

The Vision

This is the extent of the failure of policy. 85,000 offenders in prison and the prediction of 96,000 places required by 2014 represents failure. A failure to deal with crime and a failure to tackle re-offending. It is a national embarrassment that we have failed so dramatically that we have been reduced simply to locking people up in prison, and doing so proportionately more than almost any country in western Europe. We need a fundamental change to the focus of our system towards rehabilitation.

I want to try to set out as Churchill did in 1910, and as clearly as I can, conscious of my own rhetorical limitations, what we can do to address the challenges we face in 2010.

Offenders must pay back to victims and society in recompense for the harm they have caused. So we want to explore allowing for deductions from the earnings of prisoners in properly paid work to contribute towards services for victims, as a way of making amends for their crimes.

It’s clear that centralised direction and targets will either be inefficient or ineffective. We can no longer afford either. So we need to empower local agencies – whether they are criminal justice agencies or health services or Jobcentre Plus – to work together in tackling those entrenched social issues faced by many offenders.

We must work with communities to build public confidence in the system. Funding and decision-making must be devolved to local groups; greater volunteering; and engaging the voluntary sector to run innovative services that tackle the root of the problems and provide value for money.

We must build public confidence in the criminal justice system. That means an evidence-based approach, sharing information about what works in the system and ensuring those who work in it are equipped to do the job. We want the criminal justice system to be judged by its ability to deliver results not on the basis of a blizzard of announcements.

The incentives must be right. So we will overhaul the current target-based system. And offer stronger incentives by opening up competition in penal services and paying providers by results. As many of you will know, we are currently running a competition to select national framework providers of community payback services. Probation Trusts are also taking a Best Value approach to reviewing their current community payback provision. And we are very interested by the work starting soon on Social Impact Bonds in Peterborough Prison, where we will reward social investors if they reduce the reoffending of short sentenced prisoners. We intend to build on this work by develop proposals to pay independent providers to reduce reoffending, paid for by the savings this new approach will generate for the criminal justice system.

We have a historic opportunity to look at how Restorative Justice can be introduced into the criminal justice system. I have met with representatives from the Restorative Justice Consortium, and I have asked them to work with my officials on how we could embed restorative justice measures across every phase of the criminal justice process: from pre-trial right through to interventions in prisons to prepare offenders for release.

These are radical changes by any measure. And they give us the chance to empower organisations left out of the process for so long. We want to listen to new ideas to improve the criminal justice system, and we want listen to a wide range of groups: from the established and respected organisations such as NACRO through to the small community-based organisations – our door is open. I am keen to explore how we carry out this engagement in a structured and effective manner. So as part of that process, I will be hosting round-table events with voluntary sector organisations to discuss their ideas in depth.

Assessment of Sentencing

Finally, we will also assess the sentencing framework. We will have a comprehensive examination of how we can increase consistency, honesty and transparency. It will look in detail at the full range of penalties and restorative measures available in the criminal justice system in both the adult and youth sentencing framework, making sure that appropriate links are made between the two.

In particular, we will examine proposals for reform through a system of minimum/maximum sentencing. We want to increase public confidence in the criminal justice system by improving honesty in sentencing. The offender will serve a minimum period in prison as set by the judge in court. The victim, family and witness will know that the offender will not be released any earlier than this point. The judge would also set a maximum period to be served and the offender has to earn any release earlier than this point by, for example, complying with the prison regime and actively engaging in rehabilitation. This is just common sense.

For too many years the sentence passed by the court has been halved or had a third taken off, or all manner of adjustments made. I want to see the minimal custodial sentence being exactly that, the minimum time that must be spent in custody. I am not advocating doubling sentences or increasing sentence lengths. But I do want to do away with countless changes to legislation that have meant sentences don’t make much sense to anyone unless they are an experienced criminal lawyer.

This is a complex subject. Making it simpler is good for the courts, good for justice and good for the public. This is an opportunity for everyone to have their voice heard. I know that NACRO and others will have views on the sentencing framework. So let me just reiterate: I want to hear them.


The Coalition Government marks a new start. None of this is going to be easy. And we will have to make some very tough decisions. We are all going to have to make radical changes to the way we deliver services.

We are presented with a profound opportunity. We will take the time needed to get this right. We are consulting widely before bringing forward plans for reform in a Green paper in the autumn, will listen again to the reaction to our proposals and then move to a coherent package of legislation in the second Parliamentary session.

Punishment and public protection can and should be balanced with the effective rehabilitation of offenders. Offenders must be rehabilitated. Potential offenders diverted from their current path. Only by doing that will we reduce the number of tomorrow’s victims. And only then will we build public trust in a criminal justice system which will sustain a mood and temper of the public towards the treatment of crime and criminals that will enable us to pass the test of civilisation in the 21st century.

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