News | Published April 03 2019

Report considers abolition of prison sentences under a year

A Commons report has called for the abolition of prison sentences under a year to be considered this week.

The Justice Select Committee backed report said prove a solution to the "enduring" crisis of violence in prisons.

Ministers should consider abolishing prison sentences of under a year to help ease the “enduring” safety crisis behind bars, according to a Commons report.

Justice Secretary David Gauke is currently looking into the possibility of scrapping sentences of six months or less and this report goes one step further.

The report read: “The scale of the prison population crisis is such that it requires a fresh and decisive response.”

It also questioned the policy pursued by prisons minister Rory Stewart, who has committed to providing the ten worst prisons with £10 million of funding to prevent violence.

The report suggested this policy could come at the expense of other prisons still in need of support.

By August 2019 we will know whether the government has made significant progress in tackling the violence in England’s prisons, as Stewart pledged to resign if there are not improvements by then.

In January a report in The Guardian said: “By any measure our prisons are in a state of crisis. Last year, there were almost 50,000 incidents of self-harm among the 82,500 prisoners in England and Wales. Drug-fuelled violence is at an all-time high, with more than 32,500 assaults, 10,000 of which were against staff. At least 87 prisoners took their own lives, five were murdered and more than 300 died of ill-health or natural causes.”

In an interview with the paper Mr Stewart said his strategy was to focus on ten of the worst-performing prisons and try to make it harder to get drugs into them.

The ten, which include Wormwood Scrubs, Birmingham and Nottingham, will be given an extra £40 million.

“We have to move to airport-style security, where every single prison officer, every member of staff, goes through an airport-style security check every day,” he said. “Anyone, in fact, who enters a prison, including me.”

He said daily searches would reduce the pressure that can be put on staff or visitors to bring in drugs, with the person being leant on able to say they faced daily searches.

Mr Stewart, who previously helped run the rebuilding of Afghanistan while it was occupied by coalition forces, also wanted to see staff lockers moved outside the prison gates.

Mr Stewart also said some short sentences were counter-productive, telling the paper: “I’ve no doubt that the wrong kind of short sentence can damage the individual and ultimately damage the public because it can lead to more reoffending,” he said. They can be “long enough to damage the person and not long enough to change their life”.

In August the government announced it would take over the running of HMP Birmingham from private firm G4S.

The independent monitoring board had said conditions there were “squalid” and “vermin infested”.

The BBC reported that inmates had been left in cells without water, with exposed electrics and with unscreened toilets.

A reinspection report in November said: “Birmingham Prison still has much to do”, but there had been significant improvements since staff numbers were increased and prisoner numbers reduced, and the IMB said the prison was now “turning a corner”.

In January Sky News reported that new prisons will not have bars on their windows.

The Prison Reform Trust welcomed the move saying they were “yesterday’s technology”.

A Prison Service spokeswoman told Sky News: “Secure, sealed windows with toughened glass and narrow vents will be used in all cells in future prisons and [are] just one of the measures being put in place to help stop drugs and illicit mobile phones”.

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Authored by

The Parliamentary Review

April 03 2019

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