Steve Reed: The Tories broke the UK justice system. Work can fix it

Crime is rampant under the Conservatives, and victims and our communities feel abandoned. This is no surprise given that the Tories have cut police, closed the courts and allowed many young offenders out without having served their community recuperation. There is a backlog of nearly 60,000 criminal cases after a string of Tory justice secretaries – including Liz Truss – slashed the number of judges, sold courts and stood idly by while a criminal lawyer on four resigned in desperation over our crumbling criminal justice system.

The nation has been appalled in recent weeks to hear of a 13-year-old rape survivor who waited two years for her case to go to trial, only to see it postponed for nine months before it was due to start. Then-Conservative justice secretary Dominic Raab didn’t even acknowledge his father’s letter asking for help.

What is shocking is that this is not an isolated incident. Delays of three years are now the norm and not the exception for rape trials in Britain, and only 1.3% of reported rapes are shockingly low and prosecuted. Such catastrophic delays lead to cases collapsing as desperate victims retreat and witnesses forget critical details that jeopardize convictions.

Meanwhile, crimes as serious as burglary, street robbery, car break-ins and fraud have been effectively decriminalized because the Tories pulled 21,000 police officers from our streets, leaving too few to respond to 999 calls . A prisoner today is more likely to leave drug-using prison than when he first entered it. No wonder the government can’t rein in unacceptable recidivism rates while its broken justice system fuels rather than stops crime.

[See also: The Metropolitan Police is a danger to women]

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These devastating failures have shaken public confidence in the system and made our communities less safe. British communities need a Labor government to make our streets safe and secure again.

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But Conservative failures do not automatically translate into support for Labour. Our party must show that we understand the need for victims to see justice done, as well as the need to prevent crime at the source.

Once I was robbed on a dark street with a knife pressed against my throat. I know how it feels to want to see offenders brought to justice, but like all victims, I would have preferred not to be attacked at all.

When I was first elected as Head of Council in South London, the area was plagued by violent youth crime. Three young people have been murdered in six months as gangs battle in the streets to control the drug trade. But our labor council did not sit idly by. We have worked with the most affected communities and the police to develop a new strategy that has succeeded in reducing violent crime by a third in just 18 months.

We have invested in better support for families struggling to stop their children from going down the wrong path, opened a helpline for parents worried that their child is involved in a violent gang, involved the local voluntary sector and groups to channel support for young people who refused to dialogue with the authorities and set up projects that diverted them from crime. But we’ve also been tough on law enforcement – helping police arrest and prosecute those whose criminal behavior caused the law-abiding majority to fear for their safety.

I know what it takes to reduce crime on our streets because I’ve done it before. To defeat crime, communities must come together to fight it, but they need the police, courts and councils on their side – with the whole system focused on the needs of victims.

Almost 30 years ago Tony Blair said Labor would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. The result? A Labor government that cut crime by a third. It’s time to update this approach for today’s world.

As Shadow Justice Secretary, I have a simple mantra: punish, prevent, and protect. The work will make the criminal justice system work end-to-end to prevent and punish crime, while protecting victims.

First, shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper announced that Labor would introduce new neighborhood policing centers to crack down on crime and anti-social behaviour. The centers will provide residents with a place to go to report a crime or find help. The work will also make the prison work. Under the Tories, prisons have turned into violent, drug-fueled crime schools. With work, prisons will keep neighborhoods safe by ensuring criminals are kept off the streets, but it will also rehabilitate. We will do this by helping staff reduce recidivism rates.

Second, Labor will prevent crime by building the world’s first “trauma-informed” criminal justice system. This means reforming the system to utilize learning from the developing science around childhood trauma. In many cases, whether it is low level antisocial behavior or the most serious forms of crime against the person, you can trace an offender’s criminal behavior to childhood trauma that impaired his cognitive and emotional development. Whether it’s a child growing up with a drug-addicted parent or witnessing violent abuse at home, this trauma can set in and translate into harmful criminal behavior. If we focus our courts and our prisons on this issue, we can break the cycle of crime for good.

Third, the Labor Party will protect the victims. We will pass the Victims Act that has long been rejected by the Conservatives and put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. We will introduce new victim panels that will give communities in every neighborhood a greater say in how offenders repay the harm they have done.

The dire state of our criminal justice system demands bold action. To take the necessary steps to save the system from the brink, we need to look at all stages, from community sentences to diversion, to courts, to jails and to probation. We will use this information to keep communities safe while putting victims in their place, at the very heart of a functioning justice system.

[See also: Labour’s new mantra on crime: “punish, prevent, protect”]