The new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans for increased funding for the UK’s criminal justice system, with increased spending pledged for the UK’s Prison Service (announced here and here). Currently, the UK has the highest incarceration rate in Europe and its prison system is under severe pressure to cope with increasing numbers in custody. As consequence, prisons in the UK are currently experiencing the highest levels of violence and self-harm recorded.
Among the Prime Minister’s plans is the announcement that £2.5 billion will be set aside to create 10,000 new prison places in England and Wales. It is, as yet, unclear how many of these new prison places will replace outdated accommodation for prisoners that is no longer fit for purpose, and how many places will be built to increase overall prison capacity. An additional £100 million has been earmarked to improve prison security measures with the aim to prevent drugs and contraband from entering prisons. The government has also announced a sentencing review for violent crimes and crimes of a sexual nature, and seeks to examine conditions for release.
The succession of government announcements have all made reference to the overarching objective of a ‘crackdown on crime’. However, the proposed measures have been met with scepticism as to their effectiveness.
Members of the opposition parties in UK parliament have commented to the press that additional funding would be better served in addressing the existing shortcomings in prison staffing and rehabilitative services.
Noting that prison overcrowding is a longstanding issue, the Penal Reform Trust UK have responded that any plans for additional prison places need to take account of previous government plans that have fallen short, in addition to the current rate of overcrowding. Regarding the announcement of a sentencing review, they caution that such a review needs to take an evidence based approach and one that acknowledges the existing severity of sentencing for violent and sexual crimes.
Crucially, Frances Crook of The Howard League, has commented that the most pressing concern for contemporary UK penal policy is to look to implement preventative measures that will tackle the large numbers of people in custody across the UK. Speaking to the Press Association, she commented that harsher sentencing will not address public safety and will only exacerbate existing problems within an already struggling system. She adds that alternatives to custody such as community based sanctions have proven to be effective in reducing recidivism. The effectiveness of such alternatives for reducing re-offending have been supported by the Ministry of Justice’s own evidence base.