Before my election to Parliament, I worked as youth worker as well as being a magistrate in Cardiff, and throughout my time in Parliament I have followed developments in opposition, as a Minister, and then through my work on the Justice Select Committee, and more recently the Home Affairs Select Committee. Most recently that has included the mounting interest in the forthcoming elections for Police Commissioners, issues like radicalisation and the impact of the riots last August.
This week I attended an excellent hosted by the Prison Reform Trust on the issue of young adults in the justice system. They proposed some interesting reforms to try and tackle re-offending and to both broaden existing services to better engage with case complexities, as well as introducing specialist services to reduce alcohol and drug misuse. Figures from the Howard League for Penal Reform show that prison costs the taxpayer £45,000 per prisoner per year and that 50% of those released commit more crime so we need to think seriously about intervention with young adults in the system.
The reforms I introduced in 1998 to create Youth Offending Teams and the Youth Justice Board have worked well – as has been acknowledged by Ministers in the current Government but we now need a fresh focus on offenders in the 18 – 25 age group.
We also need to ensure that our justice works fairly and transparently – justice simply doesn’t work without both of these elements. That is why I was extremely concerned about the handling of the Lynette White case and have written to both the Director for Public Prosecutions, and the Chief Inspector who will be undertaking the inquiry into what happened to express my concerns.
Of course, it is not just the consequences of crime we need to deal with, and that is why I was extremely concerned by figures released showing the severity of cuts to police forces at a time when there has been the biggest increase in personal crime… a loss of 8,000 officers since May 2010 with an 11% annual increase in personal crime – including robbery, theft and violence against other people according to the British Crime Survey. The huge leaps forward in technology in recent times means that we are carrying ever more expensive equipment on us – mp3 players and smart phones often hold access to our e-mails, social media sites, and even shopping accounts on top of their value.
Next week, Parliament will be asked to vote on policing budgets. Some cuts are inevitable but the fact remains that the cuts go too far, too fast and by being front-loaded will make forward planning ever more difficult.