Monday, May 29, 2006

Lock 'Em Up

A rather interesting article has appeared in the Times today. This article suggests that the government policy of locking people up for short periods of time and then supervising them in the community for long periods of time is not going to work. The reason given for this policy not working is the simple fact that our prisons are currently stuffed full of prisoners and the system is struggling to cope.

Custody plus is a new type of sentence that is expected to come in to effect in November of this year:

Under "custody plus", offenders must be given between two and thirteen weeks in jail followed by at least six months probation on their release. Officials now fear that the introduction of the new sentence could lead to a further jump in the prison population because magistrates and judges will prefer to give an offender a short taste of prison rather than giving them a non custodial sentence.

The article concludes:

At the moment the Prison Service is 1,860 spaces short of being full, but last month Phil Wheatley, the director-general of the service, gave a clear warning of his concern about the future when he asked whether the planned 80,000 capacity for the system would be enough to deal with the numbers being dealt with by the courts. He admitted that the Prison Service was "very tight for room". Mr Wheatley added in an interview with Police Review: "“As long as I am not being asked to lock up more people than I can safely lock up, then I am OK. The question for the future is whether this is going to be sufficient?" Harry Fletcher, the assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said yesterday: "There are real fears that magistrates will use it [custody plus] as an alternative to giving people a non-custodial penalty."

Now if you add in to the mix that there have also been other changes to the criminal justice sentencing system in recent years the problem is going to get worse. As a result of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 suspended prison sentences are now easier to get. The requirements for a suspended prison sentence have been relaxed. A suspended prison sentence is basically a prison sentence that hangs over a persons head for a defined period of time. Should that person offend again during the suspension period they can be sent to prison. For example if Mr. Burglar received a suspended prison sentence of 6 months suspended for 12 months he would have to keep out of trouble for 12 months to ensure that his prison sentence of 6 months was not activated.

Suspended prison sentences are now usually imposed in addition to a community order that requires the offender to complete community service (what they now call unpaid work in the community) and or be subject to supervision (what they used to call probation). The problem with adding in community service or probation to a suspended prison sentence is that once you are in breach of either the community service or probation your prison sentence can be activated as you have not complied with the Court's sentence.

I had three or four suspended prison sentences handed out last week, they are becoming quite common for certain offences. There is therefore a growing number of people who are subject to suspended prison sentences, and a large percentage of these people will undoubtedly fail and be brought back before the Courts. As these numbers grow there will again be a problem that the Prison Service cannot cope with the number of people that are being sent to prison.

It was only a few weeks ago that the Lord Chief Justice gave a well thought out speech stating that short, sharp shocks do not work.


Anonymous said...

You are right. Short sentences do not work to change the offending behaviour of offenders. But then guided supervision in the community does not work either if there is insufficient probation staff to make it effective. If unpaid work is to work it has to be properly supervised, provides a real challenge to the offender and of a type that makes a real contribution to the community, Probation has to be able to change the attitudes of offenders to change their offending behaviour and this needs an input of effort that probation does not have.
Custody plus will only increase the burden on probation where presently officers have case loads of over 40 offenders each (or less than 1 hour per week).
Offenders rarely go straight to prison. They tend to follow an escalating pattern of offending that leads to prison. Earlier interventions with effective programmes can stop this pattern and reduce not only prison populations but also the cost to the taxpayer of keeping people inside.

Anonymous said...

Why has no one come up with a very simple and obvious solution. Build more jails? For the billion that was wasted on the dome, the 2 billions on tax credits etc etc we could have had a very nice alcatraz.

Tony Blair said this the other day whilst in America. Due to mass migration every part of our state system is under strain. This includes the prison systems. Letting criminals off or giving them softer penalties just won't work. More jails, more wardens per offender, more rehabilitation per offender.. yadda yadda yadda..

Anonymous said...

P.S. Your thoughts on:

In the link below 3rd item down in the legislation section gives you "The Criminal Defence Service Act 2006". Is this going to make legal representation for lower income families just above the threshold an impossibility?

Gavin said...


The article is about right:

"The means test will be based on numerous lower and upper thresholds based upon a person’s gross income. Basically, those on benefits, for example income support, those under 16 and those under 18 in full-time education, will still be eligible to receive free legal representation. The income and resources of a partner can also be taken into consideration. Taking into account children living with an individual subject to criminal proceedings, if an individual’s gross income is £11,950 or less then the person is eligible; however, if the gross income is £20,740 or more then the individual will not be eligible for free legal aid. The average wage in the UK is around £21,000, thus 90% of the population will be affected by the changes."

People will now have to consider their position carefully. Do they want to run the risk of running their own case in Court or are they going to consider putting their hand in their pocket, going to see their bank manager, getting a loan etc.

Anonymous said...

Will it get rid of spurious claims and make your life easier?

Gavin said...

I am not sure that spurious claims wil disappear, they form the basis for most defences!

In theory the legal aid changes will mean that there is better paid work available, but most work will be legally aidable and each case will require 15% more effort to get a properly evidenced application in to the Court complete with wage slips or proof that the Client is on benefit.

Anonymous said...

Hardly any poeple who come into conatct with the criminal justice system have incomes of anything like £20k+ This will have no effect. The 'usual suspects' will still have free legal aid, week in week out.


Anonymous said...

Unpaid Work (former Community Service) is a positive alternative than a prison sentence obviously depending on the offence and risk to the public. With Unpaid Work everyone gets something out of it:

Communities benefit from free labour which saves local authorities and beneficiaries (worksite providers) badly needed funding, also releases the strain on prisons financially and live-in accommodatation needs.

Work task may include:
Graffiti Removing
Repairing and Painting High Street Furniture
Decorating Schools over the weekends and school holidays (One school was reported of saving £10,000 per year with Unpaid Work attending one day a week.)
Decorating Village Halls
Work carried out for charities
Painting Town Centre Car Parks and Stairwells
Various Environmental Projects

Offenders get self respect and the opportunity to develop empathy, develop skills such as communication, health safety, time keeping, working as a team, problem solving which could be applied in a paying job.

Offenders also have the opportunity to hold their lives together with family and work commitments if employed and avoid having to rely on social services.

I am not advocating going easy on offenders but promote rehibilatating and turning negatives into positives with benefits for Community and Offenders. Lets us not forget Victims of Crimes and the serious impact on their lives and family. My contribution to this blog is dealing with the Low Risk Offender and the impact they can have working their sentence through Unpaid Work.

motoring solicitors said...

Only harder punishments will reduce traffic offences.