Sentencing

RSS Feed

The UK has the highest number of life-sentenced prisoners of any country in Europe, the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s Bromley Briefings Prison Factfile reveals.

There are 8,554 people in prison in the UK serving a life sentence—more than France, Germany and Italy combined.

In 2016, the UK and Turkey between them comprised 66% of the total life-sentenced prison population in Europe.

Life-sentenced prisoners in the UK make up more than 10% of the total sentenced prison population, which is higher than that for any other European country—and higher than that for the United States at 9.5%.

The growth in life and other forms of indeterminate sentences in the UK has been a significant driver of the increase in the prison population and raises serious questions regarding the fairness and proportionality of their use, the Briefing says.

Click 'read more' for the full story

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison


Read more


There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. As the government’s serious violence strategy recognises, many of the solutions lie in preventative rather than punitive measures.

As the House of Commons prepares to debate the Offensive Weapons Bill again on Monday 15 October, the Prison Reform Trust has prepared a short briefing to assist MPs, highlighting our support for a number of key amendments and new clauses.

We are concerned that provisions which unnecessarily criminalise children and young people risk driving the problem underground and could result in more vulnerable individuals being drawn into the criminal justice system, instead of putting them in contact with the treatment and support they need.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

Read more


The government should follow Scotland’s lead and introduce a presumption against short prison sentences as part of their efforts to restore safety and stability to our struggling jails according to a new briefing, Prison: the facts, published today by the Prison Reform Trust.

The briefing reveals the current scale of the challenge facing the government, with hundreds of people flowing in and out of the prison system on short sentences every week, placing pressure on an already overstretched and overcrowded prison system.

Click "read more" for the full story

Read more


The House of Commons will begin to formally scrutinise the Offensive Weapons Bill this Wednesday (27 June) as it holds its second reading debate.

In preparation, the Prison Reform Trust has produced a short briefing for MPs, highlighting concerns about the proposals to introduce new and modified existing offences, as well as the expansion of mandatory sentences.

There is understandable public concern about the recent spate of acid attacks and rise in knife crime in some inner-city areas. But experience suggests that solutions are most likely to lie in better regulation and control of supply and increased investment in preventative measures, including early intervention, education, trauma-informed and public health responses.

Click here to download a copy of the briefing.

Read more


Commenting on today's House of Commons Justice Committee report on Transforming Rehabilitation, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"This very comprehensive report makes many practical recommendations for change. One of them would immediately transform the operating context, regardless of contractual measures or organisational change. The committee unanimously recommends a statutory presumption against custodial sentences of under 12 months. At a stroke this would drastically reduce the short term ‘through the gate’ caseload where the government's own evidence shows that expensive failure is more or less guaranteed. Experience in Scotland shows that a presumption of this kind actually delivers the change ministers have already said they want in principle. They should seize the moment and get on with it."

Read more


Commenting on the resignation of the chair of the Parole Board Nick Hardwick, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"Nick Hardwick has made an important contribution to the work of the Parole Board and has been a vocal advocate for reform. His departure is a matter of real regret. The independence of the Parole Board is critical to its vital role in overseeing the safe release of prisoners, and Nick Hardwick is right to highlight the threats to its independence in his letter of resignation. It is a cornerstone of an independent parole system that decisions about the liberty of individuals should not be a matter for government ministers. In order to strengthen the confidence of the public, victims and prisoners in its work, our submission to the Parole review urges the government to establish the Parole Board as an independent legal tribunal, and make improvements to the transparency and accountability of the parole system as a whole."

Read more


Commenting on the speech made this morning by the Justice Secretary Rt Hon David Gauke MP on prison reform, Peter Dawson , director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"The Justice Secretary set out an ambitious programme of reform for our prisons. But his predecessor promised to save £400m in the coming year. David Gauke's refusal to rule out further cuts in prisons raises serious doubts as to whether any of it is deliverable. Reducing reoffending, while a welcome ambition, will not make any significant dent in the size of the prison population. It is only by stemming the flow of people into prison and reversing sentence inflation that the government can begin to reduce chronic levels of overcrowding and get a grip on declining standards of safety and purposeful activity in our prisons. Anything else is wishful thinking."

Read more


The latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust's Bromley briefings prison factfile highlights in facts and figures the consequences of a punitive political arms race over criminal justice policy over the past three decades. Steep cuts to prison staff and budgets in recent years have exposed the fault lines of a failed approach. The result is an overcrowded and overstretched prison system where standards of safety and decency are way below international expectations.
 
This year’s Bromley briefings open with a brand new section which we have called “The long view”. The Prison Reform Trust has built its reputation over more than three decades on presenting accurate evidence about prisons and the people in them. In a world where ministers feel compelled to respond to issues with ever greater immediacy, “The long view” offers an antidote to the latest Twitter storm or early morning grilling in the media.

Click 'read more' for the full story

Read more


The Prison Reform Trust has today (25 September) published its response to HM Treasury’s consultation on this year’s Budget, which highlights concerns about the viability of the Ministry of Justice’s prison building programme in light of the projected increase in prison numbers.

An additional and unanticipated rise in prison numbers, together with alarming new population projections, raise serious doubts about the sustainability of the prison estate transforming programme. Without the option of closing older prisons, as now appears inevitable under the current population projections, no funds are released to run the new prisons planned—still less to finance the building and running of new prisons that will be required over and above the 10 committed by the previous government.

Click 'read more' for the full story

Photo: Stacey Oliver

Read more


Commenting on today's (5 September) announcement that the Scottish Government will introduce a presumption against the use of custodial sentences of less than 12 months, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:
 
“There is much for England and Wales to learn from the progressive approach to punishment outlined today by Nicola Sturgeon. In particular, extending the presumption against short prison sentences from 3 to 12 months is a sensible way of reserving prison for those that really need it. In 2016 there were over 38,000 prison sentences of under 12 months in England and Wales, served in dangerous conditions and with the highest likelihood of the person reoffending on release. What a difference a similar presumption in England and Wales could make – safer communities and safer prisons.”

Read more


The Prison Reform Trust’s Head of Policy and Communications, Mark Day, yesterday took part in a discussion on the BBC Two Victoria Derbyshire programme on the damaging legacy of the Indeterminate Sentence for Public Protection (IPP). The BBC’s story, which was also covered by the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, considered the case of James Ward, who in 2006 was given an IPP sentence with a 10-month tariff, but who 11 years later remains in custody. Commenting on the Today programme, the Chair of the Parole Board, Nick Hardwick, urged the government to “get a grip” on the issue by bringing forward measures to expedite the release of the remaining post-tariff IPP prisoners.

You can watch the feature on the Victoria Derbyshire programme here [starts 16.10]

Read more


Following the riot at HMP The Mount this week, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust has written in the Huffington Post. A full copy of his blog is reproduced here.

Another day, another prison riot. This time it’s at The Mount, a perfectly ordinary 30-year-old prison on the outskirts of London—not some Victorian hell hole waiting for the bulldozers to move in. And this the week after another set of statistics showing accelerating violence, self-harm and death in our prison system. The coruscating annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons feels like a distant memory only three weeks after it was headline news.

So does the riot at The Mount tell us anything we don’t already know, and might just be bored of being told?

Click 'read more' for the full story.

Read more




Commenting on the prisons and courts bill, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

"A statutory commitment to a system that rehabilitates is crucial to building safer communities. But the key task for legislation is to ensure that prisons are places in which that ambition can actually be realised. No future government should be allowed to preside over the decline in safety, decency and fairness that  we have seen in recent years. Achieving that will require a commitment to minimum standards, a clear statement of the responsibilities of prisons to those in their care, an independent prisons inspectorate appointed by and accountable to parliament, and a sustained effort to reduce chronic levels of overcrowding and curb sentence inflation."

Read more


Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, has responded to the Justice Secretary Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss's speech on prison reform to the Centre for Social Justice with a letter published today in The Times newspaper.

Sir, Your leader hits a whole series of nails on their heads. Setting arbitrary limits on the prison population is not the issue. Eliminating overcrowding is. It represents the corrosion at the heart of our prisons, undermining decency, safety and rehabilitation. And no government in living memory has made a dent in it, probably because none has thought it worth having a strategy to do so.

Among all the many aspirations to emerge since the crisis in our prisons was finally acknowledged by Michael Gove and now Liz Truss, there is an echoing void where a timetabled plan to eliminate overcrowding should be. In the short term, the pressure can eased by not sending people to prison who need help not punishment, preventing the recall of people to prison on technical grounds, and by reversing the decline in early release on electronic tags. Longer term, we need to rethink how we punish more serious crime, restoring discretion to the courts and hope to the prisoners whose lives we seek to change.

Read more


The prison population in England and Wales has gone over 85,000 after an increase of more than 1,000 people from the beginning of September, statistics published today (28 October) by the Ministry of Justice reveal. 

The number of people in prison now stands at 85,108. On 2 September the figure was 84,066.

While prison numbers tend to fluctuate during the course of a year, the rapid increase is unusual, and will have placed additional pressure on an already overcrowded and overstretched prison system experiencing record levels of violence, self-harm, and self-inflicted deaths.

Click 'read more' for the full story.


Read more


Much greater clarity and transparency are needed in the prosecution of “joint enterprise” cases, a research report by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) of Birkbeck, University of London, in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust, has found.

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, aimed to find out how the doctrine was used in the prosecution of serious offences. 

Based on a detailed analysis of the sampled cases, the report says that there is an “urgent need” for greater clarity in the prosecution of joint enterprise cases.

Click 'read more' for the full story.

Read more