242. The huge rise in the prison population during
the last five years is unsustainable. Unless haltedand
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 essentialand
in the interest of societythat 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 effectivelyand
at far less expenseby 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 systemfrom 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
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
pointand to the existence of credible and cost-effective