A hung parliament and public spending cuts could turn out to be good news for young offenders, according to “hopeful” youth justice experts.
Despite concern that the lack of a majority government could push back key reforms in children’s services, Andrew Neilson, assistant director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said a hung parliament could lead to consensus among parties and result in better decision-making.
“A hung parliament may be, on balance, a positive thing. We would hope that a political consensus can form on the importance of protecting funding for children’s services and preventive work, although the pressure on public spending is going to be vicious,” Neilson said.
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that pressure on public spending could help the case of prison reformers as there will be less scope for prison building and “more scope for serious talks about where the solutions lie.”
Lyon said a hung parliament could iron out a consensus among the party leaders. “Imprisonment has been used as a party political football over the past 15 years but now we are seeing a consensus on many key issues, such as the overuse of prisons and the need for justice reinvestment – into prevention.”
“The combination of public service cuts and the fact that, behind all the tough talk, each party recognises that we can do better to reduce crime and reoffending by working across departments, makes us hopeful about a hung parliament,” she said.
Neilson also recognised that if a hung parliament brought about electoral reform – which the Liberal Democrats have lobbied for – a system of proportional representation could mean less polarised policies on youth justice than has been the case under the “two party system.”
Neilson said this would be “very positive” for youth justice. “There is considerable international evidence that countries with more proportional electoral systems do not experience the kind of virulent politicisation of criminal justice that we’ve experienced over the last two decades.”