Prison population 2022: planning for the future Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The Ministry’s current approach to managing the prison population and its financial sustainability

1.The Government must legislate in the next Queen’s Speech on the purpose of prisons and to strengthen the statutory foundations of the Prison and Probation Ombudsman and National Preventive Mechanism, as our predecessor Committee recommended in 2017. (Paragraph 29)

2.The frequent changes in Ministers at the MOJ and the inevitable changes in priorities that follow have hindered the sustained implementation of an overarching strategic approach to prisons policy. A clear dedicated effort will be needed to ensure that the ever-worsening decline in safety, which has now been going on for five-years, is reversed. Reversals in cuts in spending on prisons and investment into staffing, training, infrastructure and guidance will be needed and the Secretary of State for Justice and the Prisons Minister must demonstrate decisive action to achieve this. (Paragraph 34)

3.We also welcome the Ministry of Justice’s efforts to devise strategies that seek to address some of the factors that contribute to reoffending. The philosophy behind each of the individual strategies is welcome, but the current overall approach is largely a collection of operational policies and lacks a coherent means of driving reform, including processes that link plans, data on outcomes, and the evaluation and dissemination of good practice. They are also woefully under-resourced and it is unclear what resources, if any, have been allocated to future planning. There should be an overarching strategy for reoffending and a clear vision for what prisons will look like in the future. The Ministry’s rehabilitative strategies should each be underpinned by clear governance arrangements, action plans, timetables and resources. (Paragraph 35)

4.The Ministry of Justice and HMPPS are increasingly making more transparent and positive use of the evidence base in articulating the rationale for strategic approaches. This is essential if the public are to better understand who is in prison and how best to stop them from committing further crime. The creation of a small number of pilots which will be properly evaluated is welcome. Nevertheless, piloting is only helpful if expansion in programmes which prove successful are followed through and funded. The Ministry should set out in its response to this report how it intends to replicate those pilots which prove effective to the extent necessary to achieve substantial reductions in reoffending. (Paragraph 36)

5.It cannot be efficient to continue to spend money maintaining often dilapidated buildings, many of which were built in Victorian times. It is ineffective and inefficient in economic terms and does not represent smart justice. (Paragraph 42)

6.Maintaining a tight grip on finances is a laudable aim, but it is not sustainable if it results in driving down standards of decency and fails to capitalise on opportunities to reduce reoffending. We do not consider that the Government’s existing approach to prison reform is sufficient to resolve major structural deficits to provision to reduce crime. Modernising the prison estate is imperative but ploughing funding into building prisons to accommodate prison projections is not a sustainable approach in the medium or long-term. Our evidence demonstrates an urgent need for significant additional resources for cross-departmental provision to reduce reoffending. This would save the Ministry money in the long-term and would reduce the cost to society of reoffending in the long-term. We are open-minded about the solutions and encourage the Government and wider public to be so, too. We agree with the Justice Secretary that there is a need for a refreshed narrative around the use of imprisonment and how as a society we wish to deal with crime. We are encouraged by his direction of travel in examining the role that prisons should play in modern society. This should include an explicit recognition that social problems cannot be meaningfully addressed through the criminal justice system. This is not only a moral imperative but also now a financial necessity. (Paragraph 43)

7.The Government must recognise the extent of the impact of reductions in funding during the current Spending Review period for prisons and probation services on the quality of these essential public services, relative to the size of the overall resource commitment. We welcome the Ministry’s proposed approach to amassing evidence about the funding required to deliver decent and well-performing prisons for the next Spending Review. Nevertheless, resources to close the hole in the Ministry’s finances, address major maintenance problems and run decent and rehabilitative prisons up to 2022 are unlikely to be found. We note the additional £18 million resource DEL and £13 million capital DEL announced as part of the 2018 Budget for measures in support of prison decency, but this is not sufficient. There appears to be some way to go to ensure that there is evidence of sufficient strength to convince the Treasury to change direction. Once the Ministry has a clear picture of the current and projected costs of running prisons over the next Spending Review period, we recommend that they are published. (Paragraph 44)

8.The Treasury must now be able to recognise the wider implications of the decision not to invest in the prison and probation systems in recent years. It should take this into account for the future. The Spending Review exercise for 2020 to 2025 should be broadened to encompass a more systemic approach to managing the £15bn a year costs of reoffending. This should include downstream measures, which are out of the control of the Ministry of Justice. To inform such an approach, the Reducing Reoffending Group should commission urgently a systemic review of cross-departmental activity to reduce crime, including mapping demand and identifying trends in the funding and outcomes achieved by a range of public agencies over the current Spending Review period. Such analyses have been conducted to positive effect in other jurisdictions, notably the US, enabling a shift in resources from prisons to community measures. In the medium-term, the Ministry must conduct a wide-ranging and transparent consultation on its Justice 2030 project, which should be broadened out to consider the cross-departmental impact on demand for criminal justice services. Should the Government choose not to undertake such work itself, we propose that an independent commission should be established to consult on and create a sustainable strategic approach to prison and crime reduction policy up to 2030. A similar commission was set up in Scotland, reporting in 2008 and the Commission on Justice in Wales, chaired by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd is currently underway. (Paragraph 45)

The prison population current and projected

9.The prison population has become increasingly challenging in nature, with prisoners often having complex health and social needs. Many have learning disabilities or mental health conditions, such as psychosis, that make it difficult to cope with the criminal justice system and places an addition burden on the prison service to manage their needs. The Ministry needs acknowledge the challenge it faces and demonstrate that it has a long-term strategy to deal with these. (Paragraph 52)

10.The prison population is projected to grow for the foreseeable future. Prison population projections are limited in their focus on criminal justice system specific factors and the likely age and gender of prisoners. We consider that the projections should not be produced solely for the purposes of understanding the absolute numbers of prison places required, and of what nature, but also to ensure that governors and other commissioners are able to provide facilities and interventions that enables them to manage the prison population safety and effectively, with the ultimate outcome of preventing further crime when those imprisoned re-enter society. The existing approach limits the scope for thinking more laterally about how best to accommodate the challenging and complex needs of those remanded in custody and sentenced to imprisonment as part of a longer-term strategy. The more challenging mix of those sentenced to custody is likely to be partly attributable to the impact of wider social policies which do not currently factor into the Ministry’s planning. (Paragraph 60)

11.Trends in ethnicity and the social drivers of complex and challenging behaviour should be more explicitly identified in modelling of the future prison population to inform a more comprehensive planning strategy which is properly resourced to manage effectively people in custody. Understanding the reasons for ethnic and racial disproportionality and seeking to reduce it must form part of a longer-term strategy for ensuring the sustainability of the prison population. The Ministry must monitor and take seriously the trend of racial and ethnic disparity in the prison population. We intend to carry out further work in this area. (Paragraph 61)

12.To close the large gap between the money allocated to prisons by the Treasury and the current costs of running and maintaining them, the Ministry of Justice has estimated that it would have to reduce the prison population by 20,000 places. By the Ministry’s own admission this is not achievable under existing strategies and funding arrangements. (Paragraph 65)

Explaining the growth in the prison population

13.The rise in the prison population has resulted from a greater proportion of those convicted being given a custodial sentence and from custodial sentences becoming longer. This has been driven by a complex set of factors, including more minor offending being diverted from the courts. The most significant contributor has been legislative factors created by a series of political and policy choices by successive Governments and parliaments. The fact that a greater proportion of those who are being sentenced by the courts are convicted of violent and sexual offences, who will tend to get longer sentences, contributes to the increase in the size of the prison population. However, this can only partially be attributed to changes in underlying crime patterns and leads us to look at the impact of legislation, the Sentencing Council and the question of how we should be using imprisonment. (Paragraph 91)

14.The extent to which sentencing guidelines have collectively influenced sentencing practice is not clear. We welcome the Sentencing Council’s efforts to predict the impact of changes to the guidelines on Ministry of Justice resources and we consistently note the limitations of these (owing to a lack of data and resources and through no fault of the Council) in the responses we make to the guidelines in our role as a statutory consultee. In making such assessments, the Council needs to have better quality data, which in turn Ministry of Justice needs to resolve as part of its drive for better data. There will be opportunity for the Ministry to collect better data through its court reform programme. The Ministry must also increase the resources it provides to the Sentencing Council to conduct explanatory research on sentencing practice and trends. (Paragraph 92)

15.We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that there are choices to be made over the future sustainability of the prison population, and to ask questions about how as a society we should use imprisonment. We support the Secretary of State’s commitment to look at the sentencing of both short- and longer-term prisoners. As changes to the prison population have largely stemmed from legislative change, it stands to reason that legislative change should be a primary consideration when examining these choices. In the short-term, we recommend that when changes to sentencing legislation are being debated in Parliament, the Ministry considers what more it might do to make Parliamentarians aware of the likely impact on exceedingly constrained resources. Any strategy for improving the sustainability of the prison population will require a review of sentencing legislation which should include the role of the Sentencing Council. We may return to the question of the role of the Sentencing Council, which is coming up to its 10th anniversary, in a future inquiry. (Paragraph 93)

Getting the basics right and providing strong incentives for prisoners to reform

16.There is a grave and worsening situation in the safety of prisons in England and Wales despite significant recent, welcome advances in effort and resources. Over the last five years, the Ministry and Treasury have essentially adopted a crisis management approach, despite repeated warnings from us and other key stakeholders of the consequences. The Urgent Notification process would not be necessary if the Ministry’s own oversight arrangements were working effectively. Nevertheless, its introduction undoubtedly has had a positive impact on the targeting of resources. We are cautiously encouraged by signs of a more proactive approach with significant investment in ten challenging prisons. The ‘green shoots’ we are promised by the Prisons Minister are not borne out in the safety statistics, but we eagerly await them. They are urgently necessary for those working in prisons, prisoners and their families, increasing numbers of whom are bearing the scars of years of underinvestment. We have very real concerns that support given to the ten prisons could be at the expense of others in serious need and we are concerned about the diversion of resources. All prisons should have the resources that they need to foster a safe and decent environment. The Prisons Minister has set clear aspirational targets to improve safety and we will judge him by the extent to which these are achieved. (Paragraph 104)

17.Prison governors are expected to implement several rehabilitative strategies at a time when they are beginning to benefit from a higher complement of staff and are seeking to focus on reversing the deep decline in safety. While we agree that it is right to focus on both decency and rehabilitation, governors have limited capacity, with prison population at current levels, to deal with the range of competing and challenging demands on their time. They also continue to lack meaningful control over their budgets to enable them to implement these strategies effectively. We welcome the fact that there appears to have been a shift by Ministers from seeing the problems facing prisons primarily as a leadership problem to primarily a resources problem, over the last two years. Nevertheless, owing to a lack of resources, the limitations with leadership training, which our predecessor Committee commented on in 2017, appear unresolved despite a welcome aspiration to improve it. This is a matter we may return to in a future inquiry. (Paragraph 118)

18.Good relationships foster more settled and safer prisons. Our evidence demonstrates a need for greater emphasis on sentence planning, including preparation for release and resettlement which should stem from the Offender Management in Custody model when fully implemented. While it is a matter for offender managers to plan individual sentences, it is not yet clear how this will work for those representing a low and medium risk, who Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are responsible for managing. Another matter to be clarified is how sentence planning will feed into planning at establishment level or nationally. The Ministry should provide details of sentence planning arrangements, including those handled by CRCs, and on its planned evaluation of the Offender Management in Custody model in its response to this report. (Paragraph 128)

19.Prison is often the endpoint for people with complex histories who can present challenging behaviours in different ways, including through violence, self-harm, and suicide attempts as well as their offending behaviour. The experience of imprisonment can make these problems worse or provide an opportunity for them to be addressed. The approach taken by professionals who deal with them, including probation officers, forensic and clinical psychologists and other health professionals, and prison officers can be invaluable in addressing offending behaviour and supporting change. (Paragraph 134)

20.A key priority for improving the evidence base should be to understand better the implications of having a more ‘challenging mix of prisoners’, including the prevalence of more complex needs and vulnerabilities, and how best to address them. Adopting a more balanced approach to violence reduction in prisons would not mean that violent incidents should not be addressed, but rather that effort is also made to understand the reasons behind that behaviour as well as challenge it. Our evidence suggests that existing responses are largely punitive, although there are some promising attempts to adopt alternative approaches. (Paragraph 135)

21.We have not yet seen evidence that improvements in safety can be achieved with the prison population at current levels. For example, we are not satisfied that staffing levels are sufficient to stabilise prisons and facilitate meaningful relationships and to deal with the growing complexity and challenge of prisoners. We are also concerned about the loss of experienced staff and the high turnover of prison officers. As well as monitoring staffing levels, the diversity of prison officers should be monitored to ensure that they can relate to an increasingly diverse prison population. Where there are signs of improvement in prisons that have received urgent notifications, these have been achieved at reduced prison population levels. The Ministry has recognised in its recruitment practices that the skills required of prison officers have changed but it is not clear to us how the Ministry and HMPPS plan to ensure that prisons are equipped with the staffing expertise to handle the challenges and complexities. Overcrowded and under-resourced prisons will not rehabilitate those suffering from mental ill health, addiction and illiteracy. (Paragraph 136)

22.Managing a more complex and challenging population safely and effectively will undoubtedly require greater resource in terms of staffing and training. While there is some recognition of the importance of this including in developing a longer basic training course there is not yet a credible plan for dealing with staffing up to 2022 and beyond. The Ministry of Justice should set out such a plan in its response to this report. (Paragraph 137)

23.The Minister, Rory Stewart, has rightly focussed on safety and decency in prisons, however this has come at the expense of rehabilitation and purposeful activity. The Ministry needs to refocus its efforts to enable a dual approach to maintain both safety and decency, as well as improve rehabilitation. The Ministry should review its regime measurement statistics to properly monitor the amount of time prisoners spend outside of their cells, as well as access to purposeful activity, such as education. (Paragraph 148)

24.Our evidence strongly demonstrates that prisons are not currently maximising opportunities for rehabilitation. Regime restrictions related to staffing shortages and other disruptions severely undermine the delivery of rehabilitative services including education, mental health treatment, substance misuse treatment and offending behaviour programmes. Not only does this result in immeasurable wasted costs, it can put those providers delivering services at risk by undermining the viability of their funding. The nature of regimes and restricted access to rehabilitative activities has a cyclical impact on the degradation of regimes and safety, owing to the boredom and frustration of prisoners enduring impoverished regimes, which can in turn lead to violence and self-harm. Regimes need to be reported upon in a meaningful way to enable monitoring of their operation, especially since they are key to rehabilitation. Staffing levels mean many prisons are not delivering their intended regimes. The Government must inform the Committee of the extent to which prisons are able to operate their stated regimes through regular updates and the first such should be produced within six months from the publication of this report. (Paragraph 156)

25.We note that there have also been problems recruiting for other staff, including forensic psychologists and teachers which must also be addressed. Creating a rehabilitative culture will entail greater integration between the various professionals working in prisons, which should be part of the role of prison leadership. Greater integration between rehabilitative services provided in prisons should be reflected in strategies on rehabilitative culture. Greater integration between rehabilitative services provided in prisons should be reflected in strategies on rehabilitative culture. We recommend that prisons are monitored on their capacity to meet the identified needs of prisoners, which would also inform the Ministry’s evidence about resources. These data should be used to review the adequacy of existing recruitment targets to foster the relationships required to support the high volume of prisoners who have complex needs. (Paragraph 157)

26.Considerable change is required to foster rehabilitative cultures. The incentives and earned privileges scheme and the use of incapacitant spray for managing behaviour highlight the potential tensions between the various purposes of imprisonment in prison operations. We note the potential benefits of incapacitant spray in helping prison staff to feel safe. While there is of course a balance to be struck, there is an overemphasis on punitive approaches, including the use of IEP to remove privileges and the overuse of disciplinary processes. We welcome the greater discretion afforded to governors and recognition in guidance that punishment and deterrence are not always effective in reducing violence. HMPPS should encourage governors to review the balance between punishment and rewards as part of their strategy for implementing a rehabilitative culture. (Paragraph 166)

27.The clear documentation by David Lammy of the strikingly disproportionate impact of imprisonment on BAME prisoners appears to have had little impact on prison practice to date. It is disappointing that the Chief Inspector of Prisons was unable to provide more than one example of a prison having embraced the principle of ‘explain or reform’. We welcome the Ministry’s new approach but note the expectation that this must be achieved within existing resources and amongst other priorities. (Paragraph 167)

28.We expect to see clear evidence of progress in monitoring and explaining BAME disproportionality in prisons by the next annual update, following the expectation laid down by Lammy that the system must “explain or reform”. Again, significant cultural change will be required to change outcomes and we expect this to be addressed in the Ministry’s Justice 2030 strategy. In the short-term, the Ministry should focus on seeking to reduce disproportionality in outcomes in the youth custodial estate. We expect to be kept updated directly on this matter. (Paragraph 168)

29.Whilst it is almost certain that there will remain a hard core of IPP prisoners who present a significant risk and may not be safe to release, the aim of the system should be to ensure that most IPP prisoners are safely managed back into communities at the earliest opportunity. We welcome improvements in rates of release stemming from the concerted effort to ensure that IPP prisoners are managed more effectively towards release. This is important to reduce the disproportionate rates of self-harm which may be indicative of loss of hope which in turn can undermine rehabilitation. The high rates of recall are troubling. As part of its review of sentencing the Ministry should consult on legislative solutions to both release and recall of indeterminate sentenced prisoners to bring about sentencing certainty. (Paragraph 182)

30.Many prisons are operating well over their operational capacity. Our evidence points strongly to need to provide high quality care to an increasingly complex, challenging and vulnerable prison population. Prisons are not equipped to deal with this range of issues and their inability to do so limits opportunities for rehabilitation, even for those who represent a serious risk to the public. We agree that all prisoners should be given hope. When prisons are unable to provide access to effective treatment and interventions to prisoners eligible for parole this extends unnecessarily the sentences of those who may be safe to release, with robust supervision in the community, but are unable to demonstrate it. As part of its strategy for a sustainable prison population, the Ministry should explain how it intends to ensure that opportunities for long-term prisoners to progress their sentences will be optimised. This should include consideration of the potential benefits of legislative and other options for managing prisoners serving IPP sentences, particularly those over-tariff and on recall. (Paragraph 189)

31.The issue of the efficacy of sex offender treatment needs urgent resolution. We expect the Ministry to clarify how it is evaluating the Kaizen programme and when it intends to publish the research. The evaluation should include consideration of the impact on outcomes of the level of qualification of those delivering it and should also address whether the Ministry intends to review its policy of recruiting trainee psychologists to fill vacancies, or whether it might be necessary to take steps to attract qualified psychologists to the role. (Paragraph 190)

32.Release on temporary licence provides opportunities for prisoners to demonstrate that they are prepared for a law-abiding life in the community. The arrangement whereby private prison directors must seek permission from HMPPS to release prisoners on temporary licence strikes us as unnecessarily bureaucratic and we hope that the Ministry’s commitment to review this process results in its cessation by a fixed date determined in the response to this report. (Paragraph 192)

33.Whilst progress made on the Prison Estates Transformation Programme is welcome, the new-for-old strategy is not working as intended. Sites for new prisons have proven difficult to obtain, older and decrepit prisons have been forced to remain open owing to population pressures and receipts from the sale of existing sites do not cover the cost of building new prisons. In the short-term this is being recognised by the Treasury which is funding new prison building. Refurbishing older prisons like HMP Birmingham, where accommodation is substandard, is unlikely to represent value for money. We recommend that as part of its Justice 2030 project the Ministry develops a realistic, properly costed, long-term estate strategy, that enables it to meet the needs of an ever-changing prison population. (Paragraph 201)

34.We welcome the Prison Minister’s drive to improve the decency of prisons and his recognition that this is essential both for ensuring that our society treats prisoners humanely and with dignity and for providing the foundations for prison reform. While the deterioration in prison standards can be attributed partially to the failure of one of the providers contracted to maintain prisons and the complexity of the service, when the Ministry outsourced prison maintenance it did so in an uninformed, under-resourced, and unsustainable manner. The Ministry is now prioritising bringing down maintenance backlogs, auditing the true state of the prison estate, and developing long-overdue minimum standards for good quality prison accommodation. We welcome the Ministry’s commitment to build new prisons that are uncrowded and to reduce incrementally overcrowding across the estate. Nevertheless, the backlog continues to grow, and many prisoners continue to live in cells designed for fewer people. On the Ministry’s current spending trajectory, it will take many years before these major issues are resolved. We recommend that the Ministry publishes the results of HMPPS’s audits of the prison estate along with an action plan setting out how it will achieve the minimum standards it is setting and how it will manage the maintenance backlog. Transparency about the costs of the estate is essential to support public understanding of the costs of imprisonment. This should include a realistic assessment of the viability of refurbishing existing accommodation over the medium and long-term. (Paragraph 208)

35.We welcome the Ministry’s commitment to creating smaller, more normalised prison environments with improved rehabilitative facilities. The Ministry must consider how best to develop the estate more creatively to diversify provision and cater for the future needs of key cohorts of the prison population. A long-term prison estate strategy should be created as part of the Justice 2030 project. This should include provision for trials of alternative approaches for accommodating and caring for elderly and otherwise infirm prisoners, for women who do not represent a high risk to the public, and for the treatment of young adults to resolve the long-standing anomaly of the sentence to detention in a young offender institution no longer meaning that they are accommodated in suitably specialist provision. (Paragraph 215)

36.We welcome the roll-out of in-cell telephony which will enable prisoners to build and maintain stronger family relationships. A modernised prison estate could benefit significantly from greater use of technology to support purposeful activity, including education and training, and to free prison staff from tasks which could be automated enabling them to spend more time engaging meaningfully with prisoners. We welcome the Ministry’s commitment to examine how best to utilise technology as part of the Justice 2030 project and encourage them to consider the cost-benefits of a major expansion in its use. (Paragraph 216)

Tackling reoffending through a cross-departmental approach

37.The ability of former prisoners and those on community sentences to be able to access appropriate support in the community is vital to supporting their rehabilitation and reducing reoffending in the future, potentially reducing the repeated use of imprisonment. We welcome the Government’s recognition of the need for the new iteration of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme to address the shortcomings of the previous one in terms of funding for probation services. The challenges facing the Government in ensuring a sustainable prison population are not related solely to the balance between funding for prisons and probation. It is as important to ensure that other agencies are playing their part in providing services which are a necessary pre-cursor to reducing the use of short prison sentences. While the Justice Secretary has signalled his intention to move resources within the justice system, such an approach will not be possible unless other Ministers take responsibility for funding crime reduction measures. Action must be taken in the 2019 Spending Review to address cuts in funding for substance misuse and mental health treatment which places unnecessary demands on prisons and can reverse some of the positive work that prisons can do. The adequacy of funding for such provision is a matter for central Government despite the responsibility for provision being devolved to local Government. (Paragraph 228)

38.The commitment in the Female Offender Strategy to reduce the use of short sentences for women by taking a more preventive, community-based approach represents an opportunity to do something radical in seeking to shrink the prison population. While imprisonment is necessary for some women, this would provide a model for adopting similar initiatives in future for others who do not represent a high risk of harm to the public. Nevertheless, the existing funding is unlikely to have sufficient impact. The Government should be more bold in investing in community alternatives for women cross-departmentally, not only via the justice system. Reallocating the £50m from building women’s community prisons had the potential to generate a step-change in the sustainability of community-based provision that is proven to reduce crime. While it is undoubtedly necessary for money to be found to stabilise the safety of prisons, this is a clear example of the exorbitant costs of imprisonment sucking up resources that would have a more beneficial impact on our society in the long-term if used in other ways. That the issue of mainstream cross-Government funding for women’s centres remains unresolved by consecutive Governments over the last 10 years is a grossly wasted opportunity to reduce the costly intergenerational impact of crime. This must be addressed in the 2019 Spending Review. (Paragraph 229)

39.The Ministry has identified and accepted that reducing homelessness and providing sufficient suitable accommodation are crucial to halt the unnecessary revolving door of prisons. This is welcome but a credible means of addressing this major structural problem is missing from the current approach. For genuine cross-departmental progress to be made in ensuring access to housing for those leaving prison, a basic requirement to generating stable and crime-free lives, Government must urgently publish an accommodation strategy and action plan. (Paragraph 234)

40.We welcome the pilots of drug and alcohol treatment requirements attached to community orders and for supporting those likely to be facing homelessness on release. Nevertheless, these fundamental issues require a large-scale, nationwide, adequately funded response. Further cuts to local authorities are likely to further undermine this. Should the accommodation and treatment pilots be successful, the Ministry should consider as part of their case to the Treasury the implications of these pilots for resources to replicate them, which are likely to be significant. The pressures on the prison population are too great not to act soon. A key issue for the Government which must be addressed in the 2019 Spending Review and the Justice 2030 strategy must be funding drug and alcohol support services, mental health services, housing and community-based therapeutic centres to the extent which will have a medium- and longer-term impact on the size of the prison population. (Paragraph 235)

41.We support the Government’s approach to the abolition of short, ineffective prison sentences. The scale of the prison population crisis is such that it requires af resh and decisive response. We note with interest the move in Scotland towards a statutory presumption against custodial sentences of under 12 months. We repeat the recommendation we made in our report on Transforming Rehabilitation that the Government should introduce a presumption against short custodial sentences and believe, in addition to their welcome move towards avoiding the use of sentences under 6 months, they should model the effects of abolishing sentences of fewer than 12 months. We welcome clarification by the Secretary of State as to what he means by a robust community sentence. We heard that it is possible to create sentences which provide a balance between robustness and effectiveness, but note that tough sentences are not the same as effective ones in terms of reducing reoffending. We wish to hear in response to this report how specifically he intends to improve sentencer confidence in community penalties, which is a significant issue and challenging to remedy. This should include an assessment of the adequacy of existing advice provided to courts by the National Probation Service about a defendant’s history to enable sentencers to base their decisions on a fuller understanding of offending behaviour and personal circumstances. (Paragraph 251)

42.We praise the efforts of the Judiciary and the Ministry to ensure that sentencers have the information required about the interventions provided by CRCs. The Judiciary is entitled to expect that, in addition to being punished, those who are subject to probation supervision have good quality support, good quality interventions and an opportunity to move on with their lives. This should be more explicitly addressed in sentencing guidelines. We expect the Ministry to explain in its response to our report how it intends to deliver this under its revised Transforming Rehabilitation programme. The Government should as a medium-term priority consider the value of judicial monitoring in its effort to improve sentencer confidence, and as part of a wider strategy for reducing reoffending which integrates the role of the courts. (Paragraph 252)

43.The recent reduction in the prison population through administrative steps taken to increase the use of Home Detention Curfew is encouraging and has created necessary headroom. We agree that there is potential for further reductions using GPS electronic monitoring and welcome the evaluation published by the Government in February 2019. Nevertheless, these measures and reducing short prison sentences cannot alone solve the prisons crisis. (Paragraph 257)


44.We are now in the depths of an enduring crisis in prison safety and decency that has lasted five years and is taking significant additional investment to rectify, further diverting funds from essential initiatives that could stem or reverse the predicted growth. There is a grave risk that we become locked in a vicious cycle of prisons perpetually absorbing huge amounts of criminal-justice related spending, creating a perverse situation in which there is likely to be more “demand” for prison by sentencers in areas where they have less access to effective community alternatives. (Paragraph 261)

45.In recognition of public sentiment and the concerns outlined by the Justice Minister, addressing the crisis in the sustainability of our prisons calls for a serious open public debate about the criminal justice system, the role that prison can and cannot play, and its affordability. We are pleased that the Prisons Minister and Justice Secretary have acknowledged this, but, regardless of the political climate, this cannot be just a long-term aspiration. Greater transparency is necessary to enable the public and others to understand the true costs and the challenging and testing nature of decisions which need to be made about public spending on prisons and other aspects of criminal justice. This should form the first step of the Justice Secretary’s ‘national conversation’ about these matters, which cannot continue to be hidden behind either prison gates or within the Ministry of Justice at Queen Anne’s Gate. (Paragraph 264)

Published: 3 April 2019