Prison Sentences

The idea of reducing the number of prisoners on “short” sentences misses the point. What we need to be doing is assessing prisoners as individuals, deciding whether they are a threat to society, whether they can positively contribute tothe community and whether they can do so without masses of state aid. If they meet these three criteria then they should be tagged and monitored regardless of the length of their sentence. The current four year rule for HDC (Home Detention Curfew) has no logic except that revenge should, in then eyes of the gutter press, trump pragmatism. Under induividual risk approach there would actually be many more people on “short” sentences. Now, in terms of deterrence, I can assure you that the average human being (as many , many prisoners are) would only need to spend a few weeks in a Cat B prison for deterrence to be effective. Conditions are so dire that the threat of any more time in a prison such as Wandsworth is largely sufficient to deter them from reoffending. Where I do agree, however, is that, in my experience, it is the prisoners on short sentences that cause most of the problems in prisons. But those problems are mainly caused or exacerbated by overcrowding. At Highpoint, when the Governor wanted to reduce tension, he shipped in 120 lifers! The fact is that those on long sentences have to learn to coexist with staff and other prisoners and learn to adapt to the appalling lack of facilities, contrary to received wisdom.  So, initially, instead of worrying about budgets and staffing levels, it would be useful to look at the prison population as individuals and identify the 20% most capable of meeting the three criteria and tag them. They will, thus, be able to pay for their own keep rather than absorbing more and more of the budget needed for those that are really required by society to serve custodial sentences – long or short. Once that has been done, and the population reduced down to a level that the existing staff and facilities can cope with, we can then decide how best to use the existing budget. However, I accept that Andrew Hatton’s point about the Probation Service is totally valid. Without that there can be no politically acceptable non-custodial solution.

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