While it’s very good news the Queen has said government will ‘work to improve safety and security in prisons and to strengthen the rehabilitation of offenders,’ it’s a great pity so much of what her ministers actually intend to do will have the opposite effect.

In her majesty’s speech on Monday, she announced the government’s plans for a sentencing bill, designed to change the automatic release point for perpetrators of violent crime from half-way through their sentence, to two-thirds.

What this speech didn’t say is that judges can already do this in cases where they think public protection requires it. The problem is – this doesn’t create a headline or a line for the Conservative Party’s manifesto.

Research also indicates the general public underestimate the true severity of sentencing – perhaps because politicians wanting to score political points constantly encourage them to do so.

While articles declare our prisons have gone ‘soft’, the truth is that sentencing is much, much tougher than it used to be.

We have a higher proportion of life sentenced prisoners than any other country in Europe, including Russia and Turkey.

You may be thinking, ‘but why is that a bad thing. Surely harsher sentences deter would-be criminals?’

Life would be a whole lot simpler if that were true, but there isn’t a scrap of evidence so suggest it is. There’s simply no link between the severity of sentencing in different countries and their crime rate.

If we’re serious about reducing crime, the government needs to put much more energy into preventing people from committing it in the first place, and giving a realistic second chance to those that do.

The government knows this. Its own serious violence strategy acknowledges the weak evidence for punitive approaches and instead prioritises early intervention and the social causes of crime.

The Queen may have mentioned rehabilitation, but as we’ve already established, longer sentences aren’t the way to go about it.

Prison inspectors regularly find people locked up for most of the day in conditions which demean them, and do nothing to get them ready to return to the communities to which they’re eventually released.

The more ministers talk about rehabilitation, the less they seem prepared to actually do about it.

The government’s own evidence shows that effective rehabilitation means investment in community solutions for those on the cusp of custody.

Those in prison are aware of how our broken our prison system is. Violence, self-harm and suicide are all at record levels and almost a quarter of prisoners live in overcrowded cells. Against this backdrop it is almost impossible for staff to focus on the rehabilitation of the people in their care.

Reducing pressures on our prisons by bringing numbers down to a level in line with other European countries is an essential step towards freeing the capacity and resource needed to bring about a more rehabilitative justice system.

Earlier this year we, at Prison Reform Trust, counted up the promises government has made about prisons in just the last three years. We found 378 separate commitments, but nobody in government was able to tell us how many of them they still planned to implement – still fewer how many might have been delivered already.

Forever raising the bar on sentence length is a cynical diversion from the real issues and will make matters worse. All the people affected by crime – victims, offenders, and all the innocent families caught up in the mess we have created – deserve better.

This article originally appeared in the Metro.

Photo credit: Andy Aitchison