THE HOWARD LEAGUE for Penal Reform has published a new briefing, offering the Labour government a range of policy options that could deliver a lasting solution to the prison capacity crisis.

The 19-page document, Grasping the nettle, sets out the need for decisive action to tackle the problem, which has become so severe that prison governors have warned that the “entire criminal justice system stands on the precipice of failure”.

Prisons are under intolerable pressure. By the prison service’s own measure of safe and decent accommodation, there are fewer than 80,000 prison places in England and Wales. But the population now stands at more than 87,000, and Ministry of Justice projections indicate that it will continue to rise – to 96,200 by March 2025 and potentially as high as 114,800 by March 2028.

Andrea Coomber KC (Hon.), Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The new government has inherited a prison system in urgent need of reform, and it was encouraging to hear the prime minister speak about this at his first Downing Street press conference.

“There are many problems in prisons that ought to be addressed, but overcrowding is the most pressing, and this is where the new government’s immediate focus needs to be. The Howard League is pleased to come forward with sensible and detailed proposals that could be put into motion from day one.

“But we must also break out of this cycle of fighting emergency after emergency. This is why we have proposed policies for the medium and long term that would mean fewer people are harmed in a system that has been asked to do too much, with too little, for too long. Solving this capacity crisis for good would make the public safer and free up more resources to prevent crime and support victims.”

The Howard League supports a recommendation made by the Prison Governors’ Association, for people in prison on standard determinate sentences to be given automatic release after serving 40 per cent of their sentences.

The briefing recommends extending the use of suspended sentences and introducing a presumption against short prison sentences. It also calls for changes in the use of recall and remand, to prevent people being held in prison unnecessarily.

Medium- and long-term options suggested in the briefing include:

  • A comprehensive review of sentencing and sanctions.
  • Revisiting the recommendations of the 2007 Corston report on women in the criminal justice system.
  • Improved release and reintegration planning, as seen in Norway and Finland.
  • Reform and investment in the probation service; and better use of diversion schemes and community sentences.

* Read: Grasping the nettle: Options for a lasting solution to the prison capacity crisis here.

* More information about prison overcrowding and how it came about here.

* Source: Howard League for Penal Reform