NAVNIT Dholakia, who has been Lib Dem deputy leader in the Lords for 15 years, could be called upon to play a crucial role if his party does well in the forthcoming general election.With its clear policy of staying in the EU, it is possible that the Lib Dems, under Jo Swinson, could be left holding the balance of power.
But in a quiet way Dholakia has been an influential and much respected figure, especially in the Asian community, for a very long time. He has taken an interest in vitally important issues, such as prison reform, which attract little media attention.Dholakia, who is now 82, recalls: “In the early 1970s, I was appointed a member of the board of visitors for a prison in Sussex. With our massive influx of prisoners, now estimated at over 83,000 in our jails, rehabilitation is almost impossible.
We lock them up for nearly 23 hours a day with no purposeful activity. Over 60 per cent reoffend within two years of being released. The prison model is wrong. It is all about control and discipline and very little about reforming lives. Building more prisons will attract more inmates. Surely it is time we re-examined what prisons are for.”
This may not be very glamorous but Dholakia, a member of the EU justice sub-committee, has taken the trouble to visit prisons all over the world.In America, he has been to prisons in Chicago, Memphis, Atlanta and “death row in St John’s in Texas which still carries out capital punishment”.
He has also visited prisons in Kyrgyzstan in central Asia, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania, where he himself was born on March 4, 1937, and where he lived before coming to the UK in 1956 as a student.
He says: “Earlier this summer, I was