Next steps for the coalition: Naming and claiming it

In September around 50 people gathered at a meeting in London to consider the opportunities for building a broad based movement to tackle penal excess and build socially just alternatives in the UK. Academics, practitioners, students, grass roots organisations, critical lawyers, trade unionists and people who have had direct contact with the justice system offered their commitment to work collaboratively to take this forward.

Going into 2013 we need to have a clearer sense of where we are going and how we are going to get there.  Who are we? What are we for? What are we going to call ourselves? What are we going to do – and how are we going to do it? These are all big questions and I’m looking forward to being part of the discussion on this. You can read my initial thoughts in the comments I gave at the meeting in September.

There is plenty to tackle here in terms of building a credible and bold new voice in the debate and articulating the reasons why we need to radically downsize criminal justice and seek out genuine alternatives.

Of those who attended the meeting, around 20 people came forward to form a steering group and the first meeting will take place in late November. The aim of the meeting is to draft a working statement of purpose and short and medium term goals.

In preparation for the meeting we need YOU to send through your ideas and thoughts. Here are a few headings as a guide:

What’s in a name?
Should this be badged as a campaign or a coalition or a network or something completely different?

We need inspiration for a name –CAPE (campaign against penal excess), ‘Downsizing criminal justice’ and then EsCAPE has also been touted…. Please have a think and post your ideas either on this blog or by emailing us.

Can you describe three (or more) principles or goals for the coalition?

Here are some links to an eclectic mix of organisations and campaigns from the UK and abroad – the goals of whom you may agree or disagree with, but will helpfully get the ideas flowing….

So, please send through your ideas…. However brief (or long)……

  1. Name: Your ideas on a name.
  2. Principles: 3 or more key principles or goals
  3. Examples: Are there campaigns that you have admired – tell us about them.

You can post your ideas on the comment section of this blog or email directly here –

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3 Responses to Next steps for the coalition: Naming and claiming it

  1. Tony Gordon says:

    1. Penal excess is a poor name and concept, and a gift to satirists.
    2. Examples of “PA” need to be given. Personally, I think people committing minor offences are treated far too leniently , those committing major offences far too harshly.
    3. The campaign should be based on science, ie reliant on evidence not on opinion or morality.
    4. Policies should be devised to benefit society as whole, not just special interest groups.
    5. The debate on disproportionality should be mathematically informed. As a man, the justice system discriminates against me, as far more men than women are sent to prison. Only a statistician or epidemiologist can say if this is justified.
    6. The Law and Penal System should be concerned with justice, and not with social engineering, changing the law, enforcing morality and religion, personal vengeance, etc. The central person, the one that must be kept onside, is the offender. If he feels the law or punishment is unfair, illogical or hypocritical, he is going to be further alienated from society.
    7. The most obvious example of penal excess is the mandatory life sentence for murder. As long as this remains, it gives a strong signal that it is impossible to have a rational debate about crime and punishment. Actually, judging by the current hysteria about child abuse, it seems that society does not want to have a rational debate, and wants to return to pre-enlightenment values, where personal vengeance reigned and the strong dominated the weak.
    8. This movement should have a positive not negative name, eg ProJust. It is easy to see what is unjust, less easy to suggest viable alternatives.

  2. guestcontributorpenalexcess says:

    Posted on behalf of Dr Deborah Drake, The Open University:

    I liked the idea of EsCAPE as a name.

    In terms of principles: I think a key aim of the coalition has to be debunking the notion that criminal justice (and prisons) ‘work’ to reduce harm or address problems of crime. Additionally, I would be in favour of challenging the notion that punishment (the infliction of pain) is a suitable response to crime.

    Finally, I think the coalition should aim to work toward gathering evidence and developing theory and practice led proposed policies (that might be tested) as alternatives to criminal justice as we currently practice it.

  3. guestcontributorpenalexcess says:

    Posted on behalf of Dr David Scott, University of Central Lancashire.

    I would like to propose the following three principles to underscore the campaign / coalition

    1. Acknowledgment that social inequalities and penal excess are intimately tied.

    Economic and social inequalities breed anxieties, insecurities and the need for scapegoats and provide fertile ground for the rapid growth of penalisation. Both inequality and the deliberate infliction of pain destroy human health and well being. Nor does the delivery of pain, hurt and injury in response to troublesome conduct satisfactorily resolve disputes. In the long term rampant social inequalities and penalisation are likely to make society less caring, weaken social bonds, and create more problematic incidents. The campaign should therefore both challenge penal excess and social inequalities and the social harms they create.

    2. The protection of human dignity and the minimisation of social harms should be central objectives.

    To challenge penal excess and social inequalities the campaign could be grounded in the promotion of the recognition of dignity and shared humanity. This draws upon human rights to critique dehumanisation and social harms through valorising basic human characteristics that must be promoted and protected at all costs. Dehumanisation and social harms can take a number of different forms, such as poverty, racism, sexual violence and so on and so forth. The critique of dehumanisation should be central to the debate, making connections between different forms of social harm that plague the UK today. It should also be emphasised that rather than providing an appropriate response to social harms, as is sometimes assumed, imprisonment is itself is a form of social harm. The aim should be to bring together a broad range of critiques of practices which dehumanise and build a critique of penal excess from such alliances.

    3. The promotion of genuine alternatives to the criminal process and to social inequalities

    Critique and principled argument is perhaps not enough. The campaign should therefore also call for interventions that can be deployed to respond to problematic human conduct that are not rooted in the penal rationale. Such ‘alternatives’ however, must not be considered ‘add ons’ or initiated alongside existing penal practices: an ‘alternative to prison’ must be a direct replacement for a prison sentence. Care should be taken therefore to ensure that any proposed alternative interventions for handling conflicts does not become a form of ‘punishment in disguise’ and that appropriate legal safeguards are in place.

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