On 29 January 1993, the shadow home secretary stated “we should be tough on crime and tough on the underlying causes of crime.” This became one of the most famous political phrases of the 1990s marking the beginning of a new era of political triangulation or the Third Way as Tony Blair advocated “moving the debate beyond the choice between personal and social responsibility.”
25 years on, a full quarter of a century, and it seems criminal justice has been going backwards, not forwards. For defence practitioners and defendants, the hope and expectation of a state, led by politicians, achieving real progress soon is seemingly slim.
So we’re exploring how the potential of collaboration between civil society organisations and criminal lawyers offers some semblance of an opportunity to make criminal justice, including the rehabilitation of offenders, much better.
Commons is based in Lambeth and we are engaging South London community groups and civil society to find out how our combined services and skills can be put to more use to better help those in need.
Lambeth is one of the most densely populated parts of the country, with one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the country. Recent figures estimate that 43% of the population is BAME, and 38% of the population was born outside the UK. Lambeth’s demographic is skewed towards the young with around 45% of the population under 30 years of age. Whilst 37% of people in Lambeth live in the highest category areas of deprivation in the UK. In terms of mental health, 37,600 Lambeth residents (out of a total population of 318,000) have a common mental disorder, while 1.26% of people are registered with their GP as having a severe mental illness. First time entrants to the criminal justice system are on the increase, while re-offending rates among young people remain high, as does gang-related violence.
These factors all contribute to the challenges that Commons is dedicated to addressing. Despite battles with rising rents and rates and a difficult economic environment, Lambeth is an emerging hotbed of innovative thinkers and leaders in community engagement. As an example of this, we are working in partnership with a local mentorship scheme to assist a 19 year old Lambeth resident, who is overcoming an extremely difficult childhood and adolescence, to link him to the skills, education and employment opportunities he will need after his case.
We believe the role of the collective or community, as opposed to just individuals or society, has an emerging potential for progress for those involved in the criminal justice system.