Statement from the Criminal Justice Ministers
to the National Criminal Justice Board
23 January 2007
MANAGING THE IMPACT OF RAPID GROWTH IN THE
The prison population is currently running very
close to capacity with prisoners having to be held in police stations
and even, on one night, in court cells. Last night around 480
prisoners were locked out in police cells.
The growth in the prison population is a post-war
trend which accelerated in the 1990s. A good deal has changed
since then. Although the total number of prison places has risen
by 19,700 since 1997, changes in legislation, sentencing guidance,
improved detection and conviction rates and longer term trends
in sentencing practice have combined such that demand for prison
places has consistently outpaced supply. In addition, in recent
months the trends have become harder to predictthe latest
Christmas drop in the prison population was unexpectedly shallower
than in previous years.
The growth of the prison population is a problem
which affects the whole of the criminal justice system.
The essential sentencing principles are set
out in legislation:
Custodial sentences should be reserved
for serious, persistent and violent offenders;
Where appropriate one or other alternatives
to custody should be used; and
Pre-trial remands in custody should
be limited to cases identified in the Bail Act 1976 and, in particular,
cases where there is a risk of non-attendance, committing further
offences or intimidating witnesses.
The Government has taken action to increase
capacity. The Home Secretary announced plans for an extra 8,000
prison places last July. These are already starting to come on
stream with nearly 1,000 extra places added since May 2006.
The Government announced last summer a range
of actions in Delivering Simple, Speedy, Summary Justice
to speed up the trial process, reduce the number of adjournments,
and bring trials on faster. Various pilots are showing it is possible
to make a significant reduction in the number of hearings in Magistrates
Courts. CJSSS improvements will not only improve timeliness and
increase confidence in CJS, they can also reduce the amount of
time which defendants spend on remand.
The Government supports alternatives to custody
for non-serious, non-violent and non-persistent offenderscriminal
justice legislation offers a wide range of tough non-custodial
sentences. Through the Judicial Studies Board and Sentencing Guidelines
Council sentencers are provided with up to date information about
use of non-custodial sentences.
The roll out of video link technology has been
an important technical innovation for the CJS. Greater use and
availability of video links will reduce the need to transfer prisoners
to court and reduce delays in hearings.
The Government is working to increase public
confidence in community sentencesthe range of punitive
and restorative conditions which can be imposed by way of community
sentences has increased significantly in recent years. Ministers
and the Criminal Justice Agencies have a responsibility to ensure
that local communities understand how community penalties can
contribute to the delivery of justice.
There will be greater sharing of information
about police and other operations which could impact on the prison
population. Knowledge of the timing of these operations can help
CJS agencies to plan capacity more effectively.
The enforcement and collection of fines has
considerably increased, from 69% of fines in 2003 to a current
payment rate of 94%. Fear of lack of enforcement should not be
a reason for not fining.
Prosecutors are under a duty to ensure that
sentencers are fully informed of the relevant statutory provisions.
The National Criminal Justice Board is inviting
LCJBs to ask chief officers to advise on the impact locally of
trends in prison and non-custodial disposals and report back to
their NCJB sponsor ahead of the next NJCB meeting in March.
We note a number of features of recent decisions
of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division and welcome the Senior
Presiding Judge's recent letter to the judiciary underlining:
The possible use of tagging on bail
as an alternative to remand in custody. Greater use could reduce
the numbers that have to be remanded in custody.
Use of stand-down reports. Greater
use of "stand down" reports enabling the defendant to
be dealt with on the day, could avoid unnecessary remands in custody
pending the report. Over 40% of defendants remanded in custody
for a pre-sentence report do not receive a custodial sentence.