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"Do Better Do Less" - report from the Commission on English Prisons Today

2nd July 2009

Cut prison numbers and reinvest money in communities says the Commission on English Prisons Today

A landmark report into the prison system has been published today (Thursday 2 July). The product of a two-year long inquiry commissioned by the Howard League for Penal Reform, the final report of the Commission on English Prisons Today takes a radical look at the purposes and limits of a penal system and how it should sit alongside other social policies.

Do Better Do Less: The report of the Commission on English Prisons Today advocates a new approach of penal moderation and fundamental reform, including:

  • A significant reduction in the prison population and the closure of establishments
  • Investment in the localities that currently produce prisoners to reduce crime
  • The replacement of short prison sentences with community-based responses
  • The dismantling of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS), including the break up of the centrally managed prison service
  • With local authorities as lead partners, the Commission suggests local strategic partnerships should be formed that bring together representatives from the criminal justice, health and education sectors, with local prison and probation budgets fully devolved and made available for justice reinvestment initiatives

President of the Commission, Cherie Booth QC, said: “The Commission on English Prisons Today has undertaken a comprehensive consultation process, held seminars and made visits to investigate good practice and new ideas in Europe and the United States of America over the past two years.

“This final report should be a road-map for long term and fundamental reform. The Commission proposes that justice is more local. Crucially, more widespread use of effective community sentences would both allow us to reduce the use of prison and allow for reinvestment of resources into local communities to cut offending.”

The Commission’s Chair, Professor David Wilson, said: “Since early in the 1990s, England and Wales has been set on a course towards becoming a jurisdiction which punishes excessively, harshly and with little attention paid to the relationship between legislation and the impact on prison numbers.

“The result is a crisis of overcrowding which threatens to bring the penal system to its knees. We now jail more of our population than almost any other country in western Europe, despite the fact that there is no evidence to say we are any more crime-prone than our neighbouring countries.

“To counter this crisis of penal excess, the Commission advocates radical and transformational change, starting with a clear acknowledgement that criminal justice is a blunt tool which cannot in itself provide lasting solutions to the problem of crime.

“The current criminal justice system not only wastes money but it is overly centralised and driven by misleading and often meaningless targets. We advocate the breaking up of the National Offender Management Service and its replacement with an agenda rooted in localism and in engaging with communities to seek meaningful outcomes.

“Less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison should be an achievable future. Our report sets out a vision for how we get there.”

For further information, see: www.prisoncommission.org.uk

Do Less Do Better: The report of the Commission on English Prisons Today is available, priced £15.00, via www.howardleague.org 

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