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Before the Wars

Churchill as Reformer (1910 – 1911)- With a Foreword by Sir Martin Gilbert


Alan Baxendale

Winston Churchill will be forever known as the great statesman who bravely led Britain through the war years, but what led the young Churchill down this path to greatness? What motivated him to become the future leader?
Delving into documentary records in the Home Office archive, Alan S. Baxendale brings to light the young Churchill’s war at home while Home Secretary from February 1910 to October 1911. Passionate about reforming prison treatment and sentencing, Churchill engaged with his senior Home Office staff and His Majesty’s Prison Commissioners in a daily discussion of the business of criminal justice. With a focus on his working methods and relationships with his staff, Baxendale offers a new look at Churchill as a young and talented politician whose leadership led to innovative reforms that are still influential today.
This book makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the criminal justice system, providing a crucial addition to our understanding of the history of prison reform. It also gives us valuable insight into Churchill as a person, shedding light on his formative years as a minister and providing us with important clues to how he became one of the most successful politicians of modern times.


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Chapter 7: Abatement of Imprisonment: Draft Administration of Justice Bill, 8 April 1911 129


chapter 7 Abatement of Imprisonment: Draft Administration of Justice Bill, 8 April 1911 On 20 July 1910, in the Commons, Churchill declared, ‘The first real prin- ciple which should guide anyone trying to establish a good system of pris- ons should be to prevent as many people as possible getting there at all.’1 With these words he signalled his legislative intentions to abate prison sentences. Less than a month later, in an eight-page document which he circu- lated to Masterman (his parliamentary under-secretary of state), his senior Home Office officials and Brise, Churchill referred to statistics he had for 1909.2 In that year, 61 per cent of all sentences passed had been of less than a fortnight: ‘nearly 125,000 perfectly purposeless short sentences imposed every year, and of these more than a half imposed upon first offenders … I want you to consider and advise me how this gigantic number of useless and often pernicious committals can be abolished, or, at least, vastly abated.’ He had two principles in mind: petty criminals should never be sent to prison for one specific offence and they should never be sent to prison for less than a month. Whether they were juvenile adults, prostitutes, inebriates or vagrants, ‘there should be a considerable period of statutory warning, and then a disciplinary sentence of adequate length and suitable character’. Based on these principles, he offered some suggestions. The main one was that in the event of a court opting for a sentence of less than...

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