You are here: Short sentences are short sighted

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.

From our work we know that short prison sentences are a dead end. They disrupt family ties, housing, employment and treatment, yet cannot provide any meaningful rehabilitation. This latest poll shows that the public want politicians to find smarter ways to tackle petty crime. It is time to create a presumption against short prison sentences to end the revolving door.

Christina Marriott, Revolving Doors Chief Executive

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
  • The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek
  • Sarah Champion MP
  • Chris Evans MP
  • 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
  • Agenda
  • Mayday Trust
  • Clean Break
  • YSS
  • Back on Track Manchester
  • Centre for Criminal Appeals
  • Nelson Trust
  • Clinks
  • Nacro

Pledge your support here

Campaign Updates

Briefing Paper

Short sentences are short sighted

The public and the evidence are clear and in agreement: Short prison sentences are ineffective at tackling petty crime. We can do better and should adopt a smarter approach.

Short-sighted campaign timeline

In March 2018 we launched our campaign that showed short sentences are short-sighted. We asked the government to review this issue and to consider introducing a new presumption against the use of short custodial sentences of less than six months. Since then we have had real impact. The Government has committed to explore options to restrict the use of short custodial sentences.