Tuesday, May 16, 2006

'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'

In amongst the media hysteria about 'foreign' criminals and the Human Rights Act is the tragic case of Valerie Hayes .
Valerie was found dead at Styal Prison last Wednesday, after a previous suicide attempt and self harming. Her history is a sad one. Drug addiction resulted in her children being taken into care. She spent 10 years in and out of a psychiatric hospital. In 2004 she set fire to family photographs , and with one previous spell in prison behind her for a petty crime, was sentenced to 27 months for arson. Its claimed by friends she tried to put out the flames and call the fire brigade when the fire got out of hand. Even if she didn't do this it would seem the action of an unwell woman whose life was falling apart and family destroyed through drugs, not a criminal trying to cause harm and damage.

Blair meanwhile is trying to out do Cameron on blaming and attacking the Human Rights Act. He talks about reasonableness and common sense.
So where was the common sense in sending someone like Valerie to prison. She needed help with her addiction and her mental health problems. She was more a risk to herself than members of the public , the 'decent' 'hardworking' people Blair seeks to speak to and for. Did Blair speak out about the justice system that criminalises the unwell and vulnerable in our society. Did he ask where was the common sense in a judgment that offered prison not psychiatric help. Of course not, middle England are concerned about foreigners running amok. The Valerie's of this world are seen as undeserving , not part of the hardworking families that Blair is so fond of.

If Blair wants to look at changing the balance of the justice system perhaps he should take a look at the figures for self harm, suicide and women prisoners. The female prison population has increased from 2,600 to about 4,600 since 1997. Two-thirds of the female prison population show symptoms of at least one neurotic disorder and/or have a drug problem. 37% of female prisoners say they have attempted suicide at least once.
This is an indictment of both the justice and mental health system.

Its not just women of course who self harm and commit suicide in prison. There are many vulnerable men in our prisons. Like women, many have been homeless, suffered abuse as children, have drug problems or mental health problems.

So when Blair talks about getting tough on the criminals and of common sense, where does that leave the vulnerable in our society who are more a risk to themselves than anyone else.

Deafening silence from Blair on this one.