Prison charities respond to government green paper

By staff writers
March 16, 2011

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust have expressed broad support for the government’s green paper Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders, and have made key recommendations including removing custodial sentencing powers from magistrates to Crown Court judges,making community sentences more immediate and intensive and giving particulat consideration to the needs of vulnerable groups.

The Green paper went out to consultation in December 2010 and its proposal include:

*Handing police greater freedom to give out punishments to young offenders such as reparation or referral to mental health provision

*making offenders work hard through the discipline of regular working hours in prison, more demanding tasks in the community, and greater use of tough curfew requirements

*Increasing the use of restorative justice

*Reducing remand by making local authorities gradually responsible for the full cost of court ordered secure remand and amending the Bail Act 1976 to remove the option of remand for young people who would be unlikely to receive a custodial sentence

*Paving the way for devolving the cost of custody by launching payment-by-results pilots to see how local areas can be incentivised to reduce youth offending

*Exploring how payment-by-results approaches can be applied to youth offending teams and custodial providers.

The Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke said: "The green paper is an important change of direction in penal policy, which will put more emphasis on reducing reoffending without reducing the punishment of offenders.

"By reforming criminals and turning them away from a life of crime we will break the cycle. This will mean fewer crimes, fewer victims and safer communities."

The Howard League has repeated its objection to the use of short prison sentences, which it describes as ineffective and damaging, and believes that magistrates’ over-use of custody could be prevented if they were required to remand an individual to the Crown Court for a custodial sentence. This would reduce short-term sentences, it says, and compel magistrates to work more closely with community projects and programmes.

The League also recommended that community sentencing be made more immediate and intensive. It says there is too great a gap between a court issuing a sentence and the community sentence taking place. Similarly, community sentences are strung out over long periods when a more intensive option would reduce the risk of breach and boost public confidence.

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform said, “Kenneth Clarke’s plan to reduce pressure on our prisons is a welcome one, and timely given that the prison population is teetering on a new record high. The government must take more courageous action to end the use of short-term prison sentences and custodial remands. Changes to make community sentences more prompt and intensive should enhance public safety and support for their use. Community sentences should be designed to make amends to victims and local communities and must be proportionate and brisk.

On the plans to introduce real work in to prisons, Frances Crook said, “The Howard League is particularly pleased with the proposals to introduce real work in prison, something the charity has pioneered and championed for a decade, and is looking forward to making its contribution to implementing this policy in practice.”

In its to the green paper, the Howard League covers a number of policy areas, including youth justice, the diversion of those with mental health needs from the criminal justice system, and arguing for a distinctive approach to young adults aged 18-24.

The organisation also outlines its concerns to the proposals around payment by results which can be read here

The Howard League's response to the green paper can be read in full here

The Prison Reform Trust has also made a formal response to the Ministry of Justice. Its submission welcomes many of the proposals made in the green paper and commends those which would which seeks to reserve imprisonment for serious offenders and to find more humane and effective ways of preventing and reducing crime. The Prison Reform Trust highlighted the need to consider currently neglected groups including young adults, women, people with learning disabilities, the elderly and prisoners’ families. The submission can be read here

The government's response to the consultation will be published in May this year (2011)


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