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UK: The Reality of Short Term Prison Sentences

14th October 2010

A recent report released by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Governors' Association has demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of prison governors believe that short prison sentences do not work, fail to reduce crime and are used excessively.

This survey of prison governors revealed that 81 per cent of all respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘short prison sentences serve to reform and rehabilitate the offender’, with only six per cent of governors agreeing or strongly agreeing. 59 per cent of all respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed when asked if short prison sentences serve to reduce crime (including by deterrence). Furthermore, three quarters of all respondents (75.8 per cent) reported that they considered the current use of short prison sentences between zero and six months to be ‘excessive’.

In the UK prisoners serving less than six months made up about 40 per cent of the total entries into prison in 2009. Last year 50,442 people were jailed for six months or less. In the year 2008/09 the cost of looking after short sentenced prisoners, excluding their education and healthcare needs, was £286 million.

Eoin McLennan-Murray, president of the Prison Governors' Association, said that building more prisons was not the answer to dealing with offenders on short prison terms.  Frances Crook, the Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, also criticised the fact that offenders are "literally sent to prison, with all the costs that go with it, for a few weeks, or even days, at a time.”

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