Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Let's lock up our children, why don't we?

I find myself spitting blood this lunchtime. So Jack Straw is building more prisons. We already lock up more people than anyone else in Europe, what are we saying about the failure of our society? Dear Mr Blunkett, on WATO, "we don't want to lock up petty offenders but we want to stop them reoffending" er, right, lots of evidence is there, that imprisoning people stops them reoffending? We know that most prisoners have mental health or drug related issues, even the Tories drew attention to this, but why oh why didn't we hear an announcement that demonstrated this government is really interested in rehabilitation and cutting crime? I would have been the first to congratulate them had the announcement today been for more secure mental health facilities and more drug rehab units, combined with an injection of funding into preventative work. This is cheap populist rightwing press pleasing topsyturvy logic. I hope our party will have the courage to challenge it for what it is.

Last week I was really distressed to hear the story of the suicide of Liam McManus, a 15 year old, who was in Lancaster Farms YOI, half way through a 6 week sentence for breaching a supervision order. 15 years old, a child, what the hell are we doing locking up our children? And the truth is, as Nick Clegg has pointed out, that it is young men that get locked up at a rate of 3/4,000 a month. Young men, who with the right opportunities and guidance could be going on to turn their lives around, instead we send them to the best University of Crime known to man!

As Francis Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, says,

"The purpose such a short sentence was meant to serve a troubled boy of 15 utterly escapes me. Prison is simply not appropriate for most children and there is a threat that regimes will actually get worse. The Howard League has just responded on the use of batons in YOIs. We have reiterated our belief that batons will merely exacerbate the existing problems rather than tackle the root causes of their behaviour."

So, what a sad day and frankly admission of failure from a government bereft of vision and imagination and clinging onto power by their fingertips. When people ask what differentiates us from the other parties, I am proud to say a Liberal Democrat administration would have taken a far more enlightened, visionary and most importantly, effective approach, rather than the normal hysterical Tory/Labour knee jerk response.

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