Original initiative to be applauded
With the nation’s jails bulging at the seams, the country is about to have a difficult and complex conversation about crime and punishment.
Much of the public debate about these issues has been framed in recent years by the Sensible Sentencing Trust.
On the one hand, functioning as a trust it has directed funds to support the victims of crime, but on the other, operating dynamically as a movement, it has used the anger generated in the public domain as a result of crimes of violence to propel a programme of political pressure to set more punitive measures for those who offend.
Sympathy for the victim and anger towards the perpetrator are deeply human responses, but these visceral emotions are a dangerous foundation on which to build a programme of judicial reform.
Make no mistake, Annah Stretton has said something powerful and important.
I cannot agree with all she says.
Undoubtedly prisons are recruitment centres for gangs, and I don’t think the views of Professor Lambie can be so readily laid aside.
However, by wrenching our view of imprisoned women from its current matrix and reframing it into another - seeing them as scholars in a university for the disadvantaged - Annah has done something utterly original.
I admire the fact that she has bothered to listen to these women and through that alighted on disruption as a founding principle to begin a process of restorative change.
As I write this a story breaks: Two women, kidnapped and shoved into the boot of a small car.
A terrifying ride ending in a plunge over a bank.
I think: ‘Those poor women.’ Then I feel anger. How dare people do this.
But if we reframe violence as a disease - as a Glaswegian psychologist asserts - then the question becomes: ‘What is the medicine, the therapy or programme to cure it?’
In Glasgow they found the answer to that when successfully dealing with youth knife crime. Violence is a disease. The over-representation of Maori in our prisons forces us to face the fact that some of the roots of disadvantage lie in our shared and troubled past, for, as writer J. L. Borges commented in one of his famous conversations, we may know the past but the present is hidden from us.
Annah Stretton has had the courage to see into the present and for that she is to be applauded.
Fashion designer, Annah Stretton.