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.