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The Times: Britain's ballooning prison population is a disastrous mess

27th May 2010

Lord Woolf has spent significant periods of time considering the question of penal policy. Tasked with a comprehensive review of the prison system in the aftermath of the Strangeways Prison riot, he was the man who articulated the problems and provided the recommendations that shaped the response to the riot, and subsequent penal policy.

However, as he writes in an article in The Times, one of the most pressing problems identified at the time, described as a "cancer" destroying the system, was rejected by the Government. Indeed, the only recommendation to be refused by the Government, the problem of overcrowding, was not something which was addressed in the wake of the riot.

In his article, Woolf draws attention to the high rates of reoffending, figures similar to Ireland, and argues that surely this massive failure of prison to reform people merits a rethink of how the billions are spent.

Woolf also highlights the massive influence of Ministers, and the legislation sculpted and enacted by Government, in how sentencing operates and argues that the Government is therefore in a position to tackle the problem. He is critical of the assumption that the judiciary are solely responsible for an escalating prison population.

His concluding words, relevant as they are to the Irish situation, should be heard beyond his own jurisdiction,

“In such a severe economic crisis it is folly to have policies that make the prison population substantially higher than necessary.” 

Read Lord Woolf's article in The Times.