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UK: The Cost of Short Sentences

10th March 2010

A new report published today by the UK’s National Audit Office highlights the huge economic and social cost to society of those serving short prison sentences of less than 12 months and estimates that the cost could be as high as £10bn a year.

Offenders on short sentences typically have the highest reoffending rates of all prisoner categories and have an average of 16 previous convictions each.

Critics of the practice claim that short sentences are unable to provide meaningful rehabilitation or training courses, as a result of which prisoners remain unoccupied for the duration of their sentence.

The failure of short sentences is contrasted with the benefits of community service orders, a more cost effective means of sentencing those convicted of more minor offences.

Juliet Lyons of the Prison Reform Trust in the UK criticised the “revolving door of prison” and stressed the proven effectiveness of community sanctions, and the provision of drug treatment services and assistance with housing and employment obstacles.

However, John Thornhill of the Magistrates’ Association highlighted the problem of availability and said that the much lauded alternatives to custody were unavailable in many parts of the country.

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