Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill: second reading

24 January 2011

Baroness Kramer, Baroness Doocey and Lord Loomba made their maiden speeches in the House of Lords on Friday 21 January during the second reading of the Private Members' Bill, the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill.

Baroness Kramer

Baroness Kramer spoke of her involvement, in her former role as an MP, with the resettlement prison Latchmere House, which works with prisoners serving the last 12 to 18 months of their sentence:  ‘Because that prison focuses on resettlement and rehabilitation, the reoffending rates from Latchmere—every prisoner is serving a long sentence for serious crime—are as low as 25 per cent, very different from the prison system as a whole.’ Its focus is on reintegrating prisoners with their families and building links with the communities they will return to, Baroness Kramer explained.

The most important part of the work Latchmere House does is reintroducing prisoners to the life of work and to jobs – ‘creating possibility for the future,’ she said. Paying tribute to the employers that support the programme Baroness Kramer acknowledged the effort to that takes to place to facilitate this: ‘I know the kind of work that has to take place to give an employer the confidence to have a prisoner work as part of the establishment, trust them with their business, their clients, the people they work with and, sometimes, with their financial affairs. It takes a great deal of courage but it also takes a great deal of training and teaching.’

Crucial among the purposes of the Bill were ‘essential safeguards [...] not unduly to hang around the necks of prisoners a stigma attached to a past which they have now moved beyond,’ Baroness Kramer said. ‘I believe very much that rehabilitation, when done properly, can be incredibly effective—it really does work.’

Baroness Doocey

Baroness Doocey recalled her shock and sadness on her first visit to Feltham young offenders’ institution at an apparent ‘acceptance’ by inmates ‘that they would never escape the cycle of crime.’ The former councillor and current chair of the London Assembly said it was ‘as if they thought that that was their lot in life.’ However, since being the ‘subject of controversy’ several years ago Feltham had made ‘significant progress.’

Baroness Doocely praised Project Daedalus – the London Reducing Reoffending Programme, a pilot scheme at Feltham young offenders’ institution, that aims to break the cycle of youth reoffending through intensive support:  ‘It is still early days but the initial signs have been very positive indeed. The rate of reoffending has been reduced to less than 20 per cent, which compares to a national average of juvenile reoffending of 78 per cent ... The success of this project is such that similar projects are being rolled out to other young offender institutions’ she said.

But this good work will be undermined if unnecessary barriers to ex-offenders entering the labour market are not removed, she warned. The Government Green Paper on the criminal justice system, published last month, states that the way to improve public safety and reduce the number of victims is to reform offenders to reduce reoffending, she said.  Doing more to rehabilitate young offenders, particularly by training and equipping them to enter the labour market and by removing discriminatory barriers to employment is essential, Baroness Doocey said in closing her speech, ‘Of course this is not the complete solution to the problem of crime and reoffending, but it is vital if we are to break the cycle of reoffending which a policy of imprisoning offenders without rehabilitation does absolutely nothing to address.’

Lord Loomba

Setting out the link between the work of his charity, the Loomba Foundation, which raises awareness of the plight of widows and their children around the world and the rehabilitation of offender Lord Loomba said: ‘Those trapped in a cycle of deprivation find it almost impossible to get out of it. Furthermore, many are dragged into crime, drugs, alcoholism, abuse and human trafficking because these are the only avenues open to them.’

Giving offenders opportunities for rehabilitation is ‘a matter of elementary justice,’ Lord Loomba said. ‘When an offender is sentenced by a court, he or she receives a sentence which the court considers the just punishment for the crime. When an offender has paid the penalty, it is surely wrong in principle for society to inflict further non-judicial punishment on the offender, such as making it difficult or impossible for him or her to obtain employment.’
There is nothing more distressing for a former offender who is genuinely trying to put his past behind him than to be refused a job because of past offences he is trying not to repeat, Lord Loomba said: ‘Yet these things happen to former offenders day after day.  Many employers and insurance companies will not consider people who have a criminal record, however sincerely they are trying to reform their lives.’ There was a human cost: ‘When this happens, there is always a risk that in despair and depression the individual will return to the criminal way of life that he has been trying to leave behind.’

The extent to which society supports rehabilitation of offenders is a key test of that society’s civilised values, he continued.  A society that ‘offers those who have made mistakes in their lives an opportunity of rehabilitation and inclusion’ is ‘in every way morally preferable.’

Further information

The Rehabilitation of Offenders (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, was introduced by Lord Dholakia.

Private Members' Bills are pieces of legislation sponsored by Members of the House of Lords who aren't government ministers.

Although only a minority of Private Members' Bills receive the government support and time necessary to become law, sponsoring a Private Members' Bill offers members the opportunity to advocate a change to the law and to challenge the government to take action.

The term ‘maiden speech’ refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.

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