Problems facing Prisons in England and Wales
Figures from the Howard League for Penal Reform state that there are currently over 80,000 people in prison in England and Wales today. The prison population has been rising steadily since 1993, increasing from 42,000 to today's unprecedented levels. England and Wales have the highest number of people in prison within Western Europe, with 148 per 100,000 of the population being imprisoned in 2006 (Walmsley 2006). The fact that prisons are heavily overcrowded has meant that several debilitating factors have occurred, such as two people being held in a cell which is designed for one, leading to them having to use unscreened toilets, which in turn means that they lose even the most basic of human dignity. Community punishments can take on many forms, and the general principles applying to all community penalties are found in Section 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. These principles state that a ‘community order' means any of the following orders, namely: a probation order, a community service order, a combination order, a curfew order, a supervision order, and an attendance centre order. Focusing on these forms of punishment could help keep the prison population at a minimum. Prisons should always be used within our society for the most serious offenders such as murderers and rapists, so as to keep them incarcerated and away from harming society again. However, community sentences are a cheaper and more effective way to punish offenders. Replacing 20,000 prison places with alternative sentences would save the taxpayer £690 million, and community sentences reduce offending by 14%. (Howard online). Research has also shown that the public do not necessarily call for offenders to be sent to prison. For example, an ICM survey for the Ministry of Justice of 1,085 victims of non-violent crime in the UK found that 81 percent of victims would prefer an offender to receive an effective sentence rather than a harsh one with nearly two thirds (63 percent) disagreeing that prison is always the best way to punish someone. Home Office research suggests that 10 per cent of offenders are committing half of all crimes in England and Wales at any point in time (Hone Office 2001). The Carter Report, which was published in 2003, recommended targeted and rigorous sentences, specifying for ‘persistent' offenders not only greater control and surveillance, but also help to reduce their reoffending. These intensive programmes offer an “imaginative and alternative opportunity for the management of this group of offenders” (Bottoms et al (2004: 268). There are several examples of programmes which have been carried out on prolific and persistent offenders, for example, the Stoke-on-Trent Prolific Offender Project by a research team at Keel University (Worrall et al 2003) However there was no significant difference in the average number of convictions between the groups after the participants left the project. This therefore indicates that more follow up and support may be needed after completion of projects such as this. If this happened, then less people would be inclined to reoffend, which may therefore lead to a reduction in the prison population, it was also found that the programme had other benefits, such as it keeping them occupied, and built up their confidence in doing everyday things such as finding accommodation, social interaction and paying bills. Therefore it could be recommended that more community programmes could be based around these elements, as these appear to help the offenders' function in everyday life, which may therefore lead to less recidivism amongst offenders. Vass (1990) states that punishment in the community is seen as a means of keeping prison places available for more serious crimes and alleviating overcrowding. It is suggested that punishment administered in the community is also ‘humane punishment' because it helps offenders to remain in their “natural habitat,...
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