Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report


242. The huge rise in the prison population during the last five years is unsustainable. Unless halted—and in due course reversed— it will end badly.

243. If our prisons are to be anything other than human warehouses, it is essential that constructive regimes exist to provide inmates with training education and help in facing up to their offending behaviour. It is also essential—and in the interest of society—that prisoners are prepared for re-entry to the outside world when they are eventually released, as most will be. All this is threatened by the escalating prison population. It is in no-one's interests to allow this to continue.

244. If, however, the prison population is to be reduced, it is essential that credible alternatives are available. We believe such alternatives do exist. We have set them out in this report. We accept that there are offenders for whom imprisonment is the only appropriate penalty. Nothing in this report is intended to suggest otherwise.

245. We do suggest, however, that many people currently being sentenced to imprisonment could be dealt with more effectively—and at far less expense—by a non-custodial sentence. The public are, of course, entitled to expect that non-custodial sentences are sufficiently robust as to leave offenders in no doubt about the seriousness of their offending and to reduce the possibility of repetition. The burden of proving this lies with those who believe the prison population is too high. Everyone involved with the criminal justice system—from the Home Secretary and the Lord Chief Justice down— has a role to play.

246. The probation service must never lose sight of the fact that it represents the public and not the offender. A systematic effort must be made to assess the effect of non-custodial sentences if the public are to be convinced that there are credible alternatives to imprisonment. A start has been made, but there is some way to go.

247. Judges and magistrates for their part must show more willingness where appropriate to pass non-custodial sentences and to acquaint themselves with the range of possibilities on offer.

248. Politicians and the media, too, have an important part to play. They should help to prepare public opinion for a reduction in the prison population by calmly drawing attention to the consequences of continuing to fill the prisons to bursting point—and to the existence of credible and cost-effective alternatives.

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Prepared 10 September 1998