Currently 30,000 people each year go to prison on sentences of less than six months. This represents half of all people sent to prison to serve a sentence.
The majority of people serving sentences of less than six months are in prison for non-violent offences. Some common offences that receive a short time in custody are theft and drug offences , linked to underlying problems such as poverty, drug addiction, homelessness and poor mental health. Indeed, the most common offence for which people are sentenced to prison is theft. The public strongly opposes the use of prison for petty crime.
We commissioned a poll and found that:
Additionally, the majority of voters said they were likely to vote for an MP candidate that supported reducing prison populations and using the savings to invest in drug treatment and mental health programmes (only 16% said they were unlikely to do so). Each of the major parties had more people likely to support this policy than unlikely to do so. Short prison sentences are short-sighted because they disrupt family ties, housing, employment and treatment programmes for example, but they do not provide any meaningful rehabilitation.
These sentences contribute to prison ‘churn’ and volatility. At the same time, the use of community sentences, which can include requirements such as mental health treatment, alcohol misuse treatment and drug misuse treatment, has declined - substantially and rapidly.
That’s why we’re calling on the Government to introduce a presumption against the use of short custodial sentences of less than six months, requiring the court to only impose such a sentence if no other appropriate disposal is available and to record publicly the reason for a custodial sentence. This approach does not remove the court’s discretion; it is a presumption not a ban. Therefore, offences that are serious and/or risk harm (such as domestic violence) can be dealt with appropriately by the courts. At the same time there is a need to strengthen community sentences so that they command public confidence and are able to deal effectively with some of the underlying causes of persistent, petty offending, including drug or alcohol misuse and mental health.
Our supporters so far include:
- Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP
- Professor Lord Patel of Bradford OBE
- His Honour Judge John Samuels QC
- Baroness Jean Corston PC
- Kate Green MP
- Ellie Reeves MP, Member of the Justice Select Committee
- Ruth Cadbury MP, Member of the Justice Select Committee
- Lord Ramsbotham GCB CBE
- Hardyal Dhindsa, Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire
- David Munro, Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey
- Howard League for Penal Reform
- Transform Justice
- Women in Prison
- Centre for Justice Innovation
- Russell Webster
- Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive of Commonweal Housing
- Anna Herrmann, Head of Education at Clean Break
- Rob Allen, Co-Director of Justice and Prison
- Worcester Diocesan Criminal Justice Affairs Group
- Pact (Prison Advice and Care Trust)
- Centre for Mental Health
- Mayday Trust
- Clean Break
- Back on Track Manchester
- Centre for Criminal Appeals
- Nelson Trust