Submission to the Justice Select Committee
Published 14 February 2018
Below is a summary of our submission to the Justice Select Committee. We have undertaken an analysis of the historical determinants of the rise in the prison population examining who is in custody, future projections and the main offences they are in custody for.
This analysis reveals some important insights about the make-up of the prison population. Our submission draws on findings from this analysis and Crest’s wider work on policing and criminal justice. You can download a copy of our written submission here or alternatively read the conclusions of our evidence below.
The prison population
The prison population has continued to rise despite reductions in the volume of people coming before the courts over the past 10 years. We assess that a principal cause of this has been sentence length inflation. However, this has not occurred evenly across the various offence categories and has been focused on specific offence types, specifically sexual offences, robbery and criminal damage which includes arson; there does not appear to have been a general ‘trickle-down’ effect on other offence types inducing up-tariffing.
Violence offences comprise the largest category of those who are in custody; whilst sentence inflation for this group is negligible overall, there is a distributional effect, with inflation having occurred for more serious offences and deflation at the less serious end.
The mix of offenders receiving custodial sentences is now more “concentrated”, comprising offenders with a longer history of repeat offending. This is particularly the case for those receiving short sentences (less than 12 months). It may be due to a more focused approach by the police on higher harm or repeat crime, against the background of pressure on police budgets and changing crime patterns.
The proportion of first time offenders receiving a custodial sentence has remained broadly steady over the past decade.
The remand population is comprised of offenders facing charges for violent, drugs and theft offences.
Read more about the determinants of the prison population by our Associate Director Savas Hadjipavlou here.
Changes in the criminal justice system
The Criminal Justice System as a whole is experiencing a change in those within it, with a move towards more serious offences and more prolific offenders. This is reflected in the current composition of the prison population serving longer sentences for serious offences and more extensive recidivist backgrounds. Whilst it does appear that custody is being used more proportionately, the system is also continuing to send a large proportion of people to prison for short periods, a majority of whom will reoffend within two years of being released. This is a waste of resources which should be spent looking at alternatives to both custody and to boosting non-custodial sentencing that also addresses non-criminogenic needs such as mental health, substance misuse services and housing.
Crest’s recommendations include:
an urgent review of alternatives to custody for short sentenced offenders;
devolution of custody budgets attached to short sentenced offenders to elected Mayors and PCCs, creating a financial incentive for local areas to fund better diversion and alternatives to custody;
greater investment in early intervention to stem the flow of those vulnerable to criminal behaviour and future offending. This should include a more systematic approach to working with those at risk such as the children of offenders where the evidence shows them to be unequivocally at risk. Whole family approaches, including Troubled Families and related programmes provide local infrastructure and joint working arrangements that could facilitate targeting of services on this group;
a review of the role of the probation and the police in managing the most prolific offenders;
investing in the staffing, skills and infrastructure necessary for a changing prison population. This should include an assessment of the health and social care needs of a larger group of older prisoners, how to safely accommodate more violent offenders, along with reforms to ensure better continuity between provision in custody and the community.
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If you'd like to discuss our conclusions or learn more about how we could help your organisation submit evidence to a Select Committee, please get in touch.