Tag Archive | "Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service"

Sentencing and the prison population


Justice secretary Liz Truss set out her views on sentencing and the prison population in an address to the Centre for Social Justice last week. She believes that “We should be proud that we live in a society that no longer shames victims of rape; that is prepared to confront child sex abuse, and has brought domestic violence out in the open.”

She said that the problems boil down to four distinct areas: sentences are too long; prisons are too overcrowded to work; the wrong people are in prison; and the management of the prison population at the moment isn’t good enough.

She pointed out that the prison population has remained relatively stable since 2010, at around 85,000 people, and that it is not true that rates of imprisonment have gone up across the board. In 2015 courts handed out 9,000 fewer short-term sentences than they did in 2010.

She identified the biggest driver for prison growth in the last twenty years as the exposure, pursuit and punishment of sexual offences and crimes of violence, and a toughening up of sentences for these crimes. “Since 2000 there has been a 29% increase in those sentenced to custody for robbery and a 75% increase for violence against a person. And there has been a 140% increase in the number of sexual offenders in prison,” she said.

She added: “This has led to a change in the make-up of our prison population – from two in five being prisoners convicted of violent, sexual or drug offences in 1995 to three in five now. There has been a huge difference in the people we send to prison. Compared with 2010, there are now 3,000 more sex offenders in prison.”

She pledged to take action to spare victims of sexual abuse the trauma of giving evidence in open court in criminal cases. In family courts “I will end the appalling practice of domestic abuse victims being cross-examined by their attacker” she said.

“I want to transform our prisons from places of violence and despair to places of self-improvement and hope where all prisoners are given the chance to lead a better life,” she said, “because I believe that everybody is capable of reform.” The Prison and Courts Bill, due to be published this month, will enshrine in law that reforming offenders is a key purpose of prison and that the Secretary of State has responsibility for delivery.

A more systematic, nationally consistent approach is needed to provide quicker and more certain access to mental health treatment for offenders. Early intervention by the courts is vitally important in stopping women offenders from ending up in prison. “We will be announcing our strategy for women later this year and have already announced a new director for women in custody and the community – Sonia Crozier,” she said. “Early intervention is not a ‘nice to have’ added extra to the justice system, it is vital if we are ever to break the cycle of crime, punishment and more crime.”

She acknowledged that: “We also have to deal with the levels of violence and self-harm in our prisons. That is why as well as investing in reform and giving more powers to governors and creating a new frontline agency – Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service – we are putting an extra £100m a year into the frontline and will take on 2,500 more frontline officers.”

So much for former justice secretary Grayling’s mismanagement, subservient to Chancellor Osborne’s austerity programme, conceding dangerous cuts, all the while denying that there was crisis in the prison service. Liz Truss knows different. Since this speech was delivered she has offered substantial – and divisive – pay rises. Never was there such a clear example of the false economies of the austerity programme.

She concluded: “The answer to overcrowding is not to cut prisoner numbers in half. It is to make sure we have the right resources, the right workforce, the right buildings and the right regimes to reform offenders and turn their lives around (then) we will see our society become safer and our prison population will reduce.” Let us hope so.

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