Wednesday 03 October 2012 by Catherine Baksi, in Manchester
A women's justice board and a minister to tackle offenders' mental health problems would be among a Labour government's plans to fight crime and open a 'war on reoffending', the shadow justice secretary told the Labour party conference today.
Sadiq Khan MP said that Labour's claim to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime required efforts to reduce the 'scandalous' rate of reoffending, which he said costs £11bn a year. Rehabilitation, he said, is not soft on crime, but 'tough on reoffending', which will led to less crime, less victims of crime, safer communities and a cheaper justice system.
Khan highlighted problems of poor education, drug and alcohol dependency and mental health issues faced by many in prison, noting that 70% of prisoners have two or more mental health problems. 'We've replaced the Victorian asylum with the Victorian prison. Festering in prison with serious mental health problems that can and should be treated is morally wrong,' he said.
He promised that Labour would give a justice minister specific responsibility for rooting out mental health problems in our criminal justice system.
Reducing the number of women in prison was a priority. Khan called the high number of women in prison a 'disgrace', saying that 28% had no previous convictions, double that of men. Emulating the success of the youth justice board in halving the number of young people offending for the first time, Khan said that a Labour government will begin the work to look at introducing a women's justice board, working with women offenders in prisons and probation service.
He said: 'Targeting specific groups, tailoring an approach to offenders' unique circumstances, has been shown to work.'
Restorative justice will play a key role. Khan said that under Labour courts will have to consider the option of restorative justice as part of every sentence they hand down. He highlighted evidence from the Prison Reform Trust showing that the restorative justice programme in Northern Ireland had halved reoffending rates.
Addressing the conference after Khan, the shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper MP called for 'new action and new laws' to tackle organised, cross-border and financial crime. 'It's time to choke off the legal loopholes and choke off organised crime,' she said.
Cooper contrasted the situation of ordinary people going to court for not paying their TV licence with those who commit multibillion-pound financial crimes and get off scot-free. 'We need an end to the double standards,' she said.
Cooper praised the European arrest warrant, which she said had led to 600 suspected criminals being brought back to Britain to face justice. But she said more action is needed to tackle domestic and sexual violence.
'We need proper minimum standards, backed up a new domestic and sexual violence board starting with rapid action to protect vulnerable children and young people,' she said.