Stop handing down useless, costly prison sentences

 In Press

Make Justice Work in the Independent.

Letters: Prison Sentences

It was with great interest that we read Robert Verkaik’s article (29 June) on the performance of private prisons. As the article points out, the Government is committed to building five more private prisons to accommodate the rise in prison numbers. However there is scant evidence that prison, especially for people sentenced to less than 12 months, stops reoffending or represents value for money for the taxpayer.

This week marks the launch of Make Justice Work, a major new campaign aimed at reforming short-term prison sentencing in the UK. The prison population of England and Wales, currently at approximately 83,000, has risen massively in the last ten years, not because crime has increased but owing to a rise in the numbers of custodial sentences handed down to low-level, non-violent offenders.

New independent research published for this campaign shows that the majority of community sentences provide similar or better value for money and effectiveness than short-term prison sentences. Looking at short-sentenced drug-using offenders in 2007 alone, the research shows that society would have saved an estimated £1bn, throughout the offenders’ lifetime, had they been given residential drug treatment instead of being sentenced to 12 months or less in prison. The annual cost savings for the first six years post-sentencing would have been £60m-100m.

While the moral case for locking fewer people up is compelling, it is hard evidence that proves reform is really needed. All crime has a negative impact on society and specifically the immediate victims, but locking the perpetrators up ultimately does little to prevent future offending. Short-term prison sentences have a negligible, if not negative, impact on reoffending, while costing the taxpayer an obscene amount of money. We already have the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe – we have to halt this trend before it is too late.

Roma Hooper, Director, Make Justice Work;

John Austin MP;

Humfrey Malins MP;

John Leech MP;

Baroness Gibson;

Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice, 2000-2002;

Lord Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons, 1995-2001;

Sir Charles Pollard, Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police, 1991-2001;

Lord Thomas of Gresford, Liberal Democrat Shadow Attorney General;

Stephen Bubb, CEO, ACEVO

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