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Labour Review Plans For World-First "Trauma-Informed" Criminal Justice System

Both the government and Labour are announcing their plans for crime and punishment reform (Alamy)

6 min read

Labour is carrying out a review into how to create the world’s first “trauma-informed” criminal justice system, as the party also promises to be tough on crime and antisocial behaviour.

Shadow Minister for Prisons Ellie Reeves told PoliticsHome that the review will look into how to tackle “deep-rooted” trauma that often leads to violent and serious crimes.

She is revisiting a prison next week to inform this review and to see whether rehabilitation, training and conditions have improved in the years since she was last there.

Keir Starmer, the party’s leader, declared this week that Labour is “the party of law and order”, outlining plans to tackle violent crime and raise public confidence in the justice system.

He committed to halving serious violent crime if he becomes prime minister at the next election, as well as introducing Respect Orders to punish antisocial behaviour and enforcing fixed penalty charges for fly-tipping. 

“Labour’s priority is to prevent crime, punish criminals and protect the public,” Reeves told PoliticsHome.

“We are currently working on a review of our broken criminal justice system with the aim to create the world’s first ‘trauma-informed’ criminal justice system.

“This review will inform how we will work with prisons and probation to cut reoffending by tackling the deep-rooted trauma that often lies behind it, in stark contrast to the current government’s crisis management approach.”

Ellie Reeves
Ellie Reeves was as an employment law barrister before becoming an MP, and is the sister of Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves (Alamy)

Labour would look to working with courts, youth offending institutions, prisons and scientists to explore how childhood trauma affects how likely someone is to commit crime, and how these causes can be tackled.

The opposition party launched their local elections campaign this week and their frontbench MPs will be travelling across England to join campaigns on the doorstep in the run up to polling day on 4 May. 

Alongside local campaigning next week, Reeves will visit Rochester Prison to speak to inmates and staff, five years after she last visited the site. 

She told PoliticsHome her previous visit has “always stuck” with her since, and that evidence still shows the UK prisons system in “chaos and crisis” after 13 years of Conservative government.

“When we visited, I remember being told that when it rains, the prisoners can’t take part in education because the roof of the classroom leaked,” she said. 

“So they couldn't have lessons when it rains. At the time, the drug and alcohol treatment programme had been decommissioned, because the prison had originally been earmarked for closure.

“One of the things that really struck me is how can any kind of rehabilitation take place in that environment?”

The reoffending rate across prisons in England and Wales has fluctuated between 24.7 per cent and 31.8 per cent since 2008, with most of the lower rates occurring during the Covid-19 lockdowns. 

Reoffending figures for juvenile offenders are generally higher than those for adults, and 80 per cent of detected crime is committed by repeat offenders.

Describing these statistics as “shocking levels”, Reeves said that reoffending and high rates of drug usage in prisons tells a “fairly awful story” of the state of the criminal justice system. 

The shadow minister said prisons are like “colleges of crime”, and added: “If prisons aren't rehabilitating as well as punishing, then we're not going to get those rehabilitation rates down.

“It's important that people get education and training whilst they're in prison, and frankly, if they're sitting in their cells, smoking spice, then that isn't happening.

“So I'll be very interested to see when I go to Rochester, whether things have changed in those five years.”

She has visited prisons where functioning facilities like libraries, gyms and education rooms sit empty due to staffing and logistical issues.  

As Labour pushes their "tough on crime" approach, the government has been announcing their own changes. Justice Secretary Dominic Raab proposed new legislation this week that will allow ministers to be able to block the release of some prisoners and grant further rights for victims of crime.

Reforms will be implemented in the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which has now been introduced in parliament. The bill would give victims the power to challenge decisions in court and prevent some prisoners sentenced for serious offences from getting married while in prison.

Reeves said she agreed with the policy of not allowing life-serving prisoners the right to marriage in prison, and she was glad there has been a step forward in policies to support victims.

However, she did not think the bill goes far enough to address the concerns of victims and pointed out that the bill does not propose any measures around specialist rape courts: something that Labour have committed to separately. 

“It would have been good to see some more tangible measures in that bill, but we'll see what happens as it progresses through Parliament. It's disappointing it has taken so long to get to this position,” she said. 

The government has also announced a series of measures for targeting antisocial behaviour, including banning ‘laughing gas’ nitrous oxide, ‘hotspot’ policing in areas more prone to high levels of crime, and immediate punishment for offenders such as carrying out community work while wearing visible jumpsuits. 

But Reeves said the ‘hotspot’ policing idea was taken from Labour: “That's something that Labour proposed a while back, so it’s another case of the government copying our ideas.”

She also criticised the plan for being a pilot rollout across only 16 areas, accusing it of being “too little too, too late”.

As Reeves and her colleagues gear up for local election campaigning, they expect crime and antisocial behaviour to be front and centre of people’s concerns. 

“People say they don't feel as though they ever see police officers on the street,” she said. 

“They don't know who their local police officer is, which is why Labour have said we will put 13,000 more neighbourhood police and Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) on the streets to tackle some of these issues around antisocial behaviour so people do feel safe in their communities. Frankly, our communities deserve a lot better.”

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