Surge in prison population shows that urgent reform is needed | Letters

Nick Moss thinks the government should promote non-custodial alternatives to prison, Penelope Gibbs calls for a moratorium on any new court reforms or sentencing guidelines, while Howard Thomas and Kate Paradine focus on reducing reoffendingThe most terrible fact to emerge from Phil Wheatley’s attempt to sound the alarm over the appalling state of our prisons (Unforeseen rise in prison population adds to pressure on system ‘in crisis’, 31 August) is that the rise in the prison population is due to “the courts’, particularly the crown courts’, increasing use of custody versus non-custodial disposals and the trend towards longer sentences”. Bluntly, we have a judiciary in the criminal courts which believes, against all the evidence of the cases which come before it, that prison works.

There were 344 deaths in prisons in the 12 months to March 2017, up 54 from the previous year – 19% overall, with self-inflicted deaths up 11%, and incidents of self-harm up 24%. The Ministry of Justice’s figures show that two-thirds of the rise in the prison population between 1993 and 2012 has been driven by greater use of long custodial sentences. The average sentence is now nearly four months longer than 20 years ago at 15.9 months. Yet isolating people in over-crowded, spice-ravaged prisons does nothing to reduce reoffending rates. It adds further damage to chaotic lives.

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