Thursday, 1 February 2007

Overcrowded Prisons - One Answer?

When I was first elected as MP for Northavon, I freely admit that I hadn't spent very long inside prisons. But since being elected I've spent quite a bit of time 'inside' - inside HMP Eastwood Park (women's prison), HMP Leyhill (open prison), and HMP & YOI Ashfield (young offenders) - all ofwhich are in my constituency. So I've had to think quite hard about the role of prisons and how to deal with the present prisons crisis.

My view is that prisons are obviously essential for serious and violent criminals, and for those who need to be kept out of circulation for the protection of the public. But it is equally true that we are imprisoning large numbers of people at huge cost to the taxpayer to little or no useful effect.

In particular, every year tens of thousands of people receive sentences of three months or less which are almost certainly counter-productive. In many cases, they will serve no more than 6 weeks in prison. There is no chance of any rehabilitation in that time and no evidence that the prospect of 6 weeks in prison acts as much of a deterrent to anyone - indeed, the evidence is that re-offending rates among this group are astronomical. What it does mean is that people who have committed relatively minor offences get to meet lots of criminals, and we need to spend billions of pounds building new prisons to keep them all.

Surely a better alternative would be to get rid of these very short sentences pretty much completely? If people have done something serious or are a danger to the public then they should be sentenced to more than 3 months inside anyway. And if not, then why not give them a serious community sentence of perhaps double the length of the time they would have served inside. Get them to do something useful outside, instead of paying a fortune to keep them inside. Seems like a good deal to me.

1 comment:

Tristan said...

Funnily enough this came up last night with my other half.
We should not be locking people up for minor crime, but giving them robust community service or similar penalties.
Prison should be for serious crime and to protect the rest of society.
Those whose crimes dictate a long, but not life sentence should then be given the opportunity for education (which could also be offered to the petty criminal who is not serving a gaol term).