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UK prison population should be cut by a third: parliamentary report

[JURIST] The UK Parliament Justice Committee [official website] released a reinvestment report [text] on Thursday urging the prison populations in England and Wales to be reduced by a third. The committee found that incarceration is a relatively ineffective way of reducing crime except for serious offenders, and the amount of repeat offenders could be more efficiently reduced through rehabilitation programs such as housing, employment, education, and drug and alcohol services. The Ministry of Justice, which is currently spending £4.2 billion on a new prison, claims that its current strategy of longer prison sentences, which incorporate rehabilitation services, is working and the number of repeat offenders has declined. According to the report, the new prison is a "costly mistake" and funds would be better allocated to local public services outside of the prisons.

We believe that that if reform, rehabilitation and reparation to victims were given higher priority, then sentencing and penal policy overall could make a much more significant contribution to reducing re-offending and making communities safer. We see risks that the direction of current policy will increase pressure on the prison estate, negating the valuable work on offender reform that does take place in prison, particularly for those in custody for over two years. It seems equally clear that, as matters stand, the probation service will also be overwhelmed by demand for resettlement services in relation to those coming out of prison, let alone the effective management of offenders in the community.

The committee admits that the implementation of their proposed strategy would be complex and challenging, but that it is necessary to reduce the UK's heavy burden of prison overcrowding and the reduction of repeat offenders.

In 2007, the UK justice minister gave authority to prison governors to release prisoners [JURIST report] coming to the end of their sentences as a way to relieve prison overcrowding [JURIST news archive] across England and Wales. Other countries are also facing a similar problem. In the US, a panel of three federal judges approved [JURIST report] a revised plan this week for reducing California's prison population. Earlier this week, a Russian law [JURIST report] allowing minor offenders to serve their sentences under house arrest rather than in prison entered into force. The bill is aimed at reducing the number of inmates in Russia's overcrowded prison system.

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