Bring the outs in

The liberals will no longer stay silent. Jack O' Sullivan reports on a conference that challenges the hardliners

As Michael Howard and Jack Straw compete to sound the most punitive, this might seem an ill-chosen moment for liberal reformers to clear their throats. Better, one might think, to stay silent, and hope that Mr Straw will calm down after 1 May, when, if he takes the helm at Queen Anne's Gate, he might begin to shed his macho image. But at a major one-day conference tomorrow on "The Criminal Justice System: Designing the Future", leading thinkers opposing today's "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach will point a different way.

"We will be challenging the all-powerful legal system which thinks that it is the only legitimate way to deal with crime," says Charmian Bollinger, a clinical and forensic psychologist, the conference chair. "These days we understand so much more about how people are motivated, think and feel, we should be redesigning the criminal justice system in a way that reflects that knowledge." So the most important action the system could take against an offender might be, for example, to find him or her a job. "I have found in dealings with some violent men, that their problem is sexual impotence, which undermines their self-esteem. Therapy has solved the problem."

Ms Bollinger has powerful allies in thinking afresh about the value of old-fashioned punitive justice. Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC, chair of Victim Support, will argue that the present approach often fails even in its narrow tasks of catching criminals and discerning the truth about particular criminal events. Barbara Hudson, reader in criminology at Northumbria University, will warn against punishing people for offences they have not even committed (local publication of the names of convicted paedophiles or burglars might, for example, fit that category). Estela Welldon, consultant psychiatrist at the Portman Clinic, argues in favour of psychoanalytic methods in helping offenders to understand their responsibilities to others. Punishment, she contends is often of little value to people who may already been severely punished in their lives.

Charles Pollard, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, will warn against following the United States model of mass incarceration. He has helped pioneer alternatives to criminal proceedings. For example, the "caution plus" system brings young offenders and their parents to police stations and encourages discussions about crime including meetings with victims, so that an offender can understand the effects of his actions. The scheme has reduced recidivism.

But the key speaker at the conference, at Wolfson College, Oxford, will be David Faulkner, who, as a senior Home Office civil servant, was the architect of the 1991 Criminal Justice Act. As both a thinker and a civil servant, his work confounds popular suspicion that the Home Office has long been stuffed with anti-liberal hardliners. The 1991 legislation dramatically shrank the prison population before the backlash led by Michael Howard raised it to the present record levels. The 1991 Act required judges to jail an individual only if the offence was so serious that no other option would suffice. Its short-lived spirit resulted in the judiciary thinking imaginatively about alternatives to imprisonment.

Mr Faulkner, now a Fellow of St John's College, Oxford, says reform of the criminal justice system should be based on evidence of what works rather than what appeals to Sun readers. He contrasts the past few years with the 1980s which were, he says, "a period in which there was, by and large, a serious attempt to construct policies towards crime and criminal justice within a framework of evidence and principle".

The 1990s, he says, have been characterised by an "exclusive" view of society, which distinguishes between the "deserving majority", which needs to be protected from the "undeserving, feckless minority", who must be excluded and in many cases incarcerated. A reformed and effective justice system would, he says, reflect an "inclusive" notion of society. "It recognises the capacity and will of individuals to change, to improve if they are given guidance, help and encouragement; to be damaged if they are abused or humiliated."

Mr Faulkner sees an ideological battle taking place between the exclusionists, who dominate the present parliament's programme of criminal punishment, demonisation of children, hostility to single parents and refugees, and inclusionists who are talking increasingly of citizenship and civic responsibility. It is too early, he says, to know which approach will triumph.

"A move to a more inclusive approach could be linked to a New Labour programme or even to a One Nation Conservative programme. At the moment, there is not much inclusive language in what Jack Straw says, although you can hear it in his talk of supporting families and early intervention when things start to go wrong"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own