Law and Order

This week the House of Commons will be debating the Government's Bill to reform sentencing and the punishment of offenders.

I have long argued that we need to reform our penal system to break the cycle of crime.  Nearly half of adult prisoners re-offend within a year of release from prison, and more than half of all crime is committed by offenders who have already been through the criminal justice system.

Last Friday I visited Lewes Prison and saw a brilliant charitable scheme called Sussex Pathways, which trains volunteer mentors to help prisoners prepare for their release.  By addressing their problems such as drug and alcohol addiction, the offenders are turned away from a life of crime.

We'd like to see more schemes like this, increasingly paid by results.  And we're focusing on making prisons places of work and restoration, where too often in the past they have allowed idleness.

The criminal justice system must also punish and deter wrongdoing, sending the clearest signal that crime will not pay.  I have repeatedly called for a stronger response to knife crime, so I'm pleased that there will now be a mandatory minimum sentence of six months' imprisonment for aggravated possession of a knife.

Of course the police have a crucial role to play in preventing and detecting crime.  When resources are tight we need to do everything possible to save money while protecting the frontline.  We also need to tackle bureaucracy so that officers are focused on police work, not paper work.

So on Monday I was delighted to join Sussex Police to help launch their drive against red tape.  I heard from a police officer who told me how his valuable working hours were wasted by photocopying multiple copies of documents for court appearances.

I am already addressing this.  From next April, I want the criminal justice system to be digital, so that documents are sent between the police, probation, lawyers and court by secure e-mail. 

While the rest of the world uses e-mail, the justice system still relies on bundles of documents.  It's time to update it, saving time, paper and money.

As the officer told me, "as soon as this system becomes paper free, police officers will be released to do what we all joined for and love doing, rather than being tied to the photocopier."

Improving the criminal justice system will not come from spending ever more money, which in any case is not available.  It's time to make make better use of the money we have.

Christopher N Howarth