In honour of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones, let us build a more compassionate approach to justice
Updated: Jan 13
In the wake of the London Bridge terror attack in which Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were killed, Boris Johnson and the Tory party have once again, called for harsher sentences for those that commit violent offences (Grierson, 2019).
What compounds this devastating loss, is the political elite's willful ignorance of the values and worldview which Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones stood for. They believed in the humanity and rehabilitation of those that are in prison. They both devoted their time and energy to the Learning Together programme, which brought university students and those that are incarcerated together, to explore perspective on justice. It is abhorrent that this unfathomable loss of life, should be used by the political elite to legitimise approaches to criminal justice, which the victims spent their lives fighting against.
Writing in The Guardian, Jack Merritt's father, Dave Merritt describes how, "What Jack would want from this is for all of us to walk through the door he has booted down, in his black Doc Martens. That door opens up a world where we do not lock up and throw away the key. Where we do not give indeterminate sentences, or convict people on joint enterprise. Where we do not slash prison budgets, and where we focus on rehabilitation not revenge" (Merritt, 2019). Dave Merritt's words for his son are powerful. They are also a brave call to action.
Many commentators have called upon politicians to refrain from politicising the deaths of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones. But, as journalist, Ash Sarkar notes, "To insist that this tragedy not be “politicised” by anyone is to rob those closest to Friday’s victims of the right to defend their loved one’s most deeply held values and beliefs. There is a difference between saying that it is disgusting to use the memory of a criminal justice reformer as a wedge for draconian legislation, and Boris Johnson’s slippery evasion of accountability on Sunday’s edition of The Andrew Marr Show" (Sarkar, 2019).
It should not only be after such tragedy, that discussions about our criminal justice system and its failings, are brought to the forefront of public consciousness. We have had seven different justice secretaries over the course of nine years (Grierson, 2019). Since 2010, there has been a sharp rise in deaths in prison and a significant rise in violence, self-harm and drug-use (The Institute for Government, 2019). Rehabilitative programmes like Learning Together, which Jack and Saskia worked on, have been cut (ibid) and there is a clear unwillingness of politicians to address the root causes which lead people to crime in the first instance.
The political activist, Angela Davis, famously said, "Prisons do not disappear social problems, they disappear human beings. Homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, mental illness, and illiteracy are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages" (Davis, 1998). Let us remember her words and those of Dave Merritt, as we continue our fight to build a society which is fair, just and kind - in honour of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones' memory.
Davis, A. (1998). Masked Racism.
Grierson, J. (2019). Johnson's response to London Bridge attack ignores complex reality. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/dec/02/johnsons-response-to-london-bridge-attack-ignores-complex-reality [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
Merritt, D. (2019). 'Jack would be livid his death has been used to further an agenda of hate' | Dave Merritt. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/dec/02/jack-merritt-london-bridge-attack-dave-merritt?fbclid=IwAR2KSOUhj4Oai3tXyN7Y5YE1rHYq519wcghYBu8ZvXiI6dtOZ76aQ3fszRI [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
Sarkar, A. (2019). Boris Johnson’s response to the London Bridge attack is everything the victims wouldn’t want | Ash Sarkar. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/03/tory-london-bridge-jack-merritt-saskia-jones-rehabilitation?fbclid=IwAR0fcndapz53GgKASb_9waAy1yLK7-szmOm-6lhpLygni9QIPldWx-cl1qE [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
The Institute for Government. (2019). Prisons. [online] Available at: https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publication/performance-tracker-2019/prisons [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].