Prison should not be the ‘default sentence’, leading criminal justice experts argued in a report recently published (July 3rd 2014). ‘A Presumption Against Imprisonment: Social Order and Social Values’ looks at the issues of crime and punishment, and asks “why we seem unable to reduce our reliance on imprisonment.”
The study explores the reasons behind the high prison population in the UK, as well as offering contributions to the ongoing debate about why and how to try to reduce both the number of people in prison, and the length of time for which many are imprisoned.
‘We should operate with a presumption against imprisonment,’ says the report. ‘We do not deny that in some cases sending a person to prison will be the most appropriate response to, and punishment for, the crimes that they have committed. But we make the case that this is not true in the majority of cases. Imprisonment should not be the default sentence handed down.’
Specific Proposals for Change cited in the Report are as follows:
Proposals linked to the six strategies for reducing the prison population
i) Introduce a presumption that low-level offenders be dealt with out of court.
ii) Deal with more offenders by means of financial penalties and community-based sanctions rather than incarceration.
iii) Prohibit courts from imposing prison sentences below a certain length; or Create a presumption against imposing such a sentence unless there are exceptional circumstances (instead, courts would be required to impose either a suspended custodial sentence or a community sentence).
iv) Remove imprisonment as the maximum penalty for certain offences, or whole categories of offences, altogether.
v) Review sentence lengths in relation to those of other European countries, including maximum penalties and mandatory minimum sentences, and for murder and drug offences.
vi) Remove mentally disordered offenders, offenders with learning difficulties and those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction from prison, through investment in and transfer to more appropriate facilities, treatment and rehabilitation.
Overarching institutional proposals
vii) Consider the introduction of a new Penal Policy Committee.
viii) Urgently review the case of each IPP prisoner who has served the minimum term, with a view to release.
ix) Mandate the Sentencing Council to take a fresh look at its statutory duties and powers in relation to the costs and the effectiveness of different forms of sentence.
Authors include Rob Allen, Andrew Ashworth, Roger Cotterrell, Andrew Coyle, Antony Duff, Nicola Lacey, Alison Liebling and Rod Morgan.
The report can be read online here