Prisons and Courts Bill

Written evidence submitted by Supporting All Falsely Accused with Reference Information (SAFARI) (PCB 10)

Input on the Prisons and Courts Bill

We know that the Prisons and Courts Bill is currently being considered; we wondered whether it might be useful to take this opportunity to forward you the following proposals to the prison and sentencing system which could save over £1 Billion per year and reduce crime:

Introduction

The prison population in September 2015 (when this report was originally produced) was 85,699 and is at breaking point.


Prisons are supposed to punish offenders for their crimes and to rehabilitate them so that they do not reoffend. But 45% of adult prisoners re-offend within one year of release.

SAFARI exists to support the large number of people who have been falsely accused of committing the crime – many of whom end up in prison and having their lives destroyed. While we do wish to discuss that issue with you at a later date, the purpose of this particular document is different. We’ve been in existence for twelve years (since 2003) and have experienced the prison system through hundreds of people’s eyes over that time. We can see what’s wrong with it (from the point of view of all prisoners – not just those wrongfully convicted) but we can also see the solutions.

Our plan should

1. (1)  Reduce crime

2. (2)  Reduce the cost of imprisonment

3. (3)  Reduce the overall prison population

4. (4)  Improve education for offenders who need it

5. (5)  Prepare prisoners for leading a law-abiding life when they complete their sentence.

It’s a win-win deal and we hope you will give serious consideration to our proposals. We are happy to meet with you to discuss them in further detail should you wish.

SAFARI’s proposed New System
One of the easiest ways to explain how the new system would work is just to show it in action:

Following conviction, the sentence is set

Following conviction, the judge decides on the appropriate sentence. Under this new system the length of sentence is always the exact amount of time served in prison or on licence. Six months means six months, five years means five years. Simple. Gone is the confusing sentencing rules that allow some people to serve different amounts of time in prison or on license depending on numerous factors such as type of crime, whether an extended sentence was given, whether an extended licence is given, etc. This means judges will now know for sure that the sentence length they decide upon does not need to be structured to take into account these oddities. For example, if a judge believes the defendant needs to serve one year, they won’t need to hand down a two year sentence knowing that they will be released half way through.

Prison currently harms the family of the defendant and does little to reduce crime.

Sending a defendant to prison harms the family of that person more than it harms the defendant who is looked after, fed and clothed, provided with accommodation, exercise, heating, etc. All for free. Their family outside have to cope with the aftermath of losing a loved one, and losing the income that that loved one was able to generate. In addition, many prisoners are held at, or moved to, prisons a long distance away from their support network of friends and family, and this network is often vital to their complete rehabilitation and integration into society on release. If this network is destroyed through the inconvenience or impossibility of travel for visits, the prisoner is left on release with little or nothing in the way of continued support to help prevent them from reoffending. 46% of adults are reconvicted within one year of release which shows that imprisoning these people does little to reduce long-term crime.

All sentences should be suspended except in certain circumstances

Prisons are at breaking point and do not need to be filled even more with people who are not a danger to the public. Every defendant sentenced to something other than prison saves the Prison Service around £33,000 per year. If the defendant, subject to strict licence conditions, is not considered a physical danger to the public (which would apply to virtually all crimes including theft, drug possession, some indecent assaults, etc.) their entire sentence should be suspended and subject to stringent license conditions which could include, for example, requirements regularly to attend courses designed to lower their chances of reoffending, to wear an electronic tag to ensure they don’t enter certain areas or do stick to a curfew, etc.

Prison time

Those defendants who are considered too dangerous to be out on licence (and those who breach licence conditions) go to prison. Prison time should now be completely focused on trying to turn these people around. It’s about training, advice, employment, etc. and works as follows:

Induction prison

When a defendant enters prison they are placed into one specifically designed for induction purposes. They are advised what is expected of them (good behaviour, willingness to attend courses that they qualify for, etc.) and then spend a month there as staff monitor their actions to decide what happens at the end of the month. Reports on each prisoner are produced and a copy given to the prisoner to add their own comments. At that point they are either moved to a ‘Basic’ prison or an ‘Enhanced’ prison depending on the prisoner’s behaviour to date. The decision on which type of prison to move them on to should be based solely on their general behaviour, and not be linked to other factors such as whether or not they maintain their innocence.

Basic prison

As the name suggests, this is a prison that only offers the basics. Food, accommodation, exercise, key courses, employment, etc. Defendants arrive here only if they have failed to behave to a suitable standard in their previous prison. Prisoners should not be set unattainable targets – such as the Sex Offenders’ Treatment programme for those who maintain their innocence; this is what happens now so it is important to ensure that anyone agreeing to attend but who is not allowed (or considered unsuitable) by the prison to attend should not be penalised by being sent to Basic Prison simply for failing to attend unattendable courses. Violence in basic prisons will be low as anyone committing such violence knows that they will not qualify to be upgraded to an Enhanced prison.

Enhanced prison

This is for anyone who has behaved in a satisfactory manner during their previous month. They don’t have to have behaved perfectly – just not badly. The ‘reward’ for behaving is to be allowed to live in an Enhanced prison. In addition to all Basic prison facilities, those in Enhanced prisons are allowed more ‘association’ time where they can socialise with others; attend courses over and above the basics (such as learning music, singing, computer programming, any further education courses which will assist them in obtaining employment on release, etc., have keys to their own cells [this already happens for some Enhanced prisoners], etc.) Violence in Enhanced prisons will be a very rare event as anyone committing such violence knows that they will be moved to a Basic prison.

Monthly Reassessment

At the end of every month, all prisoners’ behaviour is considered, and prisoners can be moved between enhanced and basic prisons if any changes in their behaviour warrant it. This gives an incentive to those in basic prisons to improve themselves and also gives on-going incentives to those in Enhanced prisons to maintain their good behaviour. In many cases, prisoners will stay where they are as they would have had to actively take action (negative or positive) to be moved. Again, such movement decisions must be based entirely on general behaviour, and not linked in any way to any consequence of maintaining innocence. It must always be remembered that some people convicted of offences are factually innocent, and these people should not be penalised more than the guilty.

Six-Monthly Release Consideration

At the end of every six month period, any prisoner can request to be assessed to see whether their sentence can be continued outside prison. This will be based mainly on how they have used their time in prison to be considered ‘safe’ to release on licence. As with the monthly reassessment, the six monthly reassessment provides a major incentive for all prisoners to make major improvements in their behaviour, reasoning, etc. note: Some long term prisoners have sadly become institutionalised and believe they would find it extremely difficult being released; they actually prefer to remain in prison. This will need to be taken into account and only prisoners who wish to be released should be considered for release (unless they sentence is coming to an end anyway). Failure to do this could have the reverse desired effect and give an incentive to those people to actively misbehave to avoid an unwanted release.

Definition of ‘good behaviour’

When deciding whether a prisoner’s behaviour warrants a move to a basic or enhanced prison, to be released on licence or to be recalled to prison, it is vital to have the term ‘good behaviour’ properly defined. In particular, failure to attend any course that the prison refuses the prisoner’s acceptance on, cannot be treated as ‘bad behaviour’. This may seem obvious but, currently, a large number of prisoners who have allegedly committed a sexual offence but who claim to have been wrongfully convicted of that offence, are having attendance of the Sex Offenders Treatment Program (SOTP) placed on their sentence plan; they are then being told that by maintaining their innocence they do not ‘Qualify’ to attend the course; they are then penalised for ‘failing’ to attend. The availability of a hypothesis-based SOTP course inside prisons, which allows participation by those convicted for sexual crimes and who maintaining their innocence, will assist in decision-making. If the prisoner agrees to attend any course asked of them it is wholly unacceptable for them to be penalised if they are then not allowed to attend.

Prisoners already in the system

While the above ideas will reduce prison numbers for new defendants over a number of years, there is still the case of prisoners already in custody. As the Basic and Enhanced prisons are set up (mainly by converting some of the current prisons) current prisoners can start being moved to these newly categorised prisons and enter the monthly and six monthly assessments, leading to release on licence if they qualify.

Crime reduction

At present, there is little available to prisoners to help them move onto a better, law-abiding life on release. There are some basic courses available, but clearly with the re-offending rate as it is they do not go far enough. By only imprisoning the violent offenders (and those who fail to abide by licence conditions), giving better training to everyone either in prison or on license, and having instant incentives throughout the entire process to achieve self improvement, reoffending rates will dive. It is a sad fact that many prisoners have no idea how benefits can help them outside prison while they readjust; in particular many of the ill-informed feel they can only offend to generate money to cover rent as they are unaware of the existence of, for example, housing benefit. A full benefits information service inside prisons, and possibly an education programme on what help is available to prevent reoffending through a perceived lack of money, could be extremely beneficial. For those who have offended through financial hardship, basic courses on working out and sticking to a budget, and on how to handle credit, could be vital as without this knowledge there is far more likelihood that they will feel driven to offend again.

Drug Issues and Drug-related Crime

Many prisoners suffer from substance abuse and addiction, and many of those are in prison for committing crimes to cover the cost of their drug habit. Drug addiction also leads to financial hardship for families. We request that you watch the short (15 minute) "TED Talk" video at http://tinyurl.com/SAFARI37 as this demonstrates an alternative way of dealing with drug- related issues. In particular, it is very interesting to note the success that Portugal has had in reducing addiction and drug- related crimes. Following some of the Portuguese example could dramatically reduce the prison population, the costs associated with this; and improve the rehabilitation and reintegration of drug users into society in a way which has been shown to be successful.

Reintegration as a responsible member of society

Reintegrating offenders into society has always had its problems; particularly when people have spent a long time in prison. The most effective way to rehabilitate people, and teach them responsibility as a member of a law-abiding society, both in terms of costs in money and time, and quality of results, is to do that within the society – not as a "theoretical learning" situation within a prison institution. Offenders serving a sentence outside prison, under supervision and within a structured system where they can make reparations, work to support their families, and continue education, will need little reintegration as such as they are not isolated from normal society but functioning within it.

Improvements in the prison situation and reducing overcrowding

With a reduction in prisoner numbers, cells can revert to single-occupancy over time. This has many benefits. The numbers of staff can be reduced as the numbers of prisoners are reduced, and stress-related behavioural issues caused by overcrowding will reduce. Those who have to remain in prison will be able to be moved closer to their families, making the hardships imposed on the family outside less. Visiting will be easier and less expensive for families, and prisoners will be more able to maintain relationships with the people who will be in a position to give them emotional and practical support on their release. The loss of family support networks, and the destruction of relationships, can be a major trigger towards reoffending.

Dramatic savings in costs

With nearly 86,000 people in prison costing the Government around £33,000 on average per year each, this equates to £2.8 billion per year of expenditure. We believe that by introducing these new systems, the prison population will be able to be reduced dramatically (by at least 30,000 and probably by a lot more) and savings of over £1 Billion will probably be easily achieved, helping to reduce the National Debt.

So what is the punishment?

Prison itself was never originally designed to be a punishment for all crimes. It was a place where people were held before their trial, or while awaiting a decision on reparation for their offences, or a decision on punishment for the more serious crimes. Just ‘doing time’ is pointless; it’s about doing very little with your life for months or years on end and training people how to fail. Most prisoners are very negative about their prospects on release, believing that they will struggle to survive, let alone make a success of their lives. On licence, people should be helped to get into work to support their family and a certain amount could be taken from their wages as a ‘fine’ and go into a Government fund to help cover the costs of monitoring these people on license. Anyone who breaches their licence can be imprisoned (as they received a suspended prison sentence).

Summary of key points

The prison population will likely dramatically drop to below 50%.

£30,000 per person per year will be saved for each person released on licence and as they will be able to work, they will be able to support their family instead of having to rely on benefits long term. Total savings for the Treasury is likely to be over £1 billion per year.

After the improvements which come with single-occupancy cells, the number of prisons in use in total should eventually drop, due to the overall drop in prisoner numbers. The Government could then sell off the old prisons, and clear more of the national debt from the proceeds. Alternatively, they could be rented out to small industries as office, manufacturing and warehouse space, or used to provide emergency temporary housing for the homeless, or for illegal immigrants awaiting deportation; prisons are full of rooms with basic facilities.

Re-offending rates will reduce dramatically as entire sentences will be personal-development-based, and concentrate on retraining within society; more people will complete their sentence with a better chance of leading a responsible and lawful life.

Those who have been wrongly convicted will find it easier to put together an appeal against conviction.

The sentencing and prison system will be simplified greatly: Those not considered violent are released on licence and only imprisoned if they do not behave. Those going to prison only serve the time that is set. Prisoners go into induction and then basic or enhanced prison and are moved between them based on behaviour, with an eye always on the option of serving the remainder of their sentence in the community.

March 2017

 

Prepared 28th March 2017