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Michael Palin: ‘Collateral damage: The effects of prison sentences on offenders’ families’

17th November 2015

The 14th Longford Lecture 2105 was given by the actor, writer and broadcaster Michael Palin (right). The lecture was chaired as always by the broadcaster, Jon Snow, and was preceded by the presenting of the annual Longford Prize by Michael Gove, Secretary of State.

Highlights of the Lecture

“The marginalisation of the family begins from the very first moment of detention.”

“We are a developed country, and to be poor here is to have your nose pressed against a well-stocked window, with a finger constantly beckoning you to come inside. Possessions are power. The more you have the more you will be listened to, the less you have the more vulnerable you are to anything that will desensitise you from the real world. So let’s not sit here and shake our heads about families who get into trouble and think that the answer is bigger prisons and a faster justice service. What we should be thinking about is how we can change a society that has 20% of its children in absolute poverty.”

“Punishment doesn’t end when the sentence has been served. For many, that’s when it’s just beginning. ”

“Government figures confirm that chances of re-offending are 39% higher among those who have not received visits in prison than in those who have. And yet figures also show that almost half of all offenders lose contact with their families when they go to prison.”

“They should consider making the family more welcome in prisons, extending family days, providing areas in which the family can be reunited in a non-threatening environment with looser time limits. They are the voices which need to be heard. The voices from inside prisons, from inside communities, from inside families. They have so much to teach us, and if we are prepared to learn and listen, we can go some way to making our prisons places not of fear and violence but, to echo the fine words of the Justice Secretary , of reform, rehabilitation and redemption.”


The Longford trustees invite a range of speakers to give the annual Longford Lecture and aim to strike a balance year-on-year so as to reflect a broad spectrum of experience. Each speaker agrees to take questions from the audience at the end of delivering their lecture so that the points they have made can be tested. The opinions that individual lecturers put forward do not represent the views of the Longford Trust. Our purpose is to promote discussion and debate.