The Howard League for Penal Reform has launched a high profile campaign seeking to halt the relentless rise in the UK prison population and to urge the political parties to place more investment in communities to tackle the underlying causes of crime.
Supporters of 'Take Action 2010' are being urged to go online at www.howardleague.org to register their support and upload pictures or videos of themselves holding up the campaign slogan: "less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison".
Public figures including Daniella Westbrook, Prunella Scales, Lady Sovereign and Emma Freud are among those who have already backed the campaign and are seeking to communicate it to the widest possible public.
The Howard League and the campaign’s supporters will also be speaking to prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) in constituencies across the country, asking them to think again about the justice system - which the League, a respected and long-standing penal reform group, wants to see operating much closer to communities and better geared to solving the problem of crime.
The prison population in Britain has almost doubled to its current level of nearly 85,000 since the early 1990s and this increase is unprecedented in our recent history, says the Howard League.
the NGO adds that jailing more men, women and children than ever before seems to have done nothing to make people feel safer, with re-offending rates remaining stubbornly high.
The Take Action 2010 campaign's specific policy recommendations include:
* Investing in the community by putting money into addressing the underlying causes of crime and giving people the support they need to change.
* Ending short prison terms of less than a year and grounding sentences in what works.
* Justice for children by raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility and engaging [with] the child behind the crime.
* Real work in prison through providing long-term prisoners with a reason to get off their bunks with gainful employment.
The Conservative Party has supported the introduction of "real work in prison" but is more equivocal on community funding and restorative justice.
An end to short prison sentences is already being legislated for in Scotland. In England and Wales the Prison Governors’ Association has called for a similar approach to be enacted.
Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Billions of pounds are spent on maintaining our prisons and building thousands of new prison places each year. We all need to be involved in dealing with the underlying causes of crime by investing in communities and prevention. As a nation we spend ever-increasing sums of money on simply trying to manage the problem."
“Instead of simply accepting that each year the prison population will hit record levels, we believe it is time for a different vision to take hold. That’s why we’re asking people to support our vision of less crime, safer communities, fewer people in prison,” she declared.