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« Jonathan Sheppard: A frontline role for community pharmacists | Main | Kevin Davis: Education should start later »


Mike Christie

I would say this is a no-brainer. The current blatantly dishonest system is a disgrace. The sentence handed down in court should be the sentence served and we should commit firmly to ending the sham that sees people sentenced to years in prison let out in months. If a sentence is too harsh for a given crime it is up to Parliament to decide, accountable to the people.


If we had prisoners draw lots and every 10th one was shot, or we arranged prison breakouts as in Brazil so the army could come in and shoot them ............that would free up cells and provide a further deterrent............but The Treasury refusing to fund prison cells is the way that crime runs out of control.........and since the EU agreements mean that freed convicts from other EU countries cannot be refused entry to the UK I suppose we should pray they are not recidivists

Kevin Davis

Not difficult - yes!

Although I also agree with the risk you identify:

"Risk: If judges know that sentences will be served in full they may simply compensate by reducing the sentence they give. "


I'm delighted to see that some of the policies proposed on this site get approved and many get rejected. Shows that we are a discerning lot!

Please can the management add to the interest of this by letting us know how many, or what proportions, were for/against each policy, so that we can have an idea which policies are the most/least popular?


Tam Large

Yes, Yes, Yes!

It is essential for deterrence, for victims, and for fairness.

Magistrates and Judges have to set sentences based purely on the seriousness of the offence, reduced by whatever mitigation there may be, and the type of plea (less if pleaded guilty). When the "system" reduces the time served, then this is contrary to the sentencing principles. We have to give written reasons for our sentence, but I am not aware that reasons have to be recorded for reductions. That is wrong and unfair. (I am a Magistrate)

Wat Tyler

Definitely yes.

As to cost...

The stats say that to halve our crime rate, we need to double the number of prisoners to about 160,000. It will cost about £3bn pa, just over one-half per cent of public expenditure, and chickenfeed against the £100bn pa cost of crime.

For that we get 80,000 modern prison places provided and managed by private sector specialists. Prisons such as Parc in Bridgend, managed by Securicor and costing taxpayers £38,000 pa per place. When I visited, I was much taken by the "in-cell sanitation, natural and forced ventilation, in-cell electrics, in-cell TV, Pool & Table Tennis Tables". A bit too much of a holiday camp for some perhaps, but most of us just want bad guys taken off the streets. We don't necessariy want 12th Century style dungeons.

(for more on costs and benefits see eg http://burningourmoney.blogspot.com/2006/06/3bn-well-spent.html )

Wat Tyler

Incidentally, that £38,000 pa cost of a place at HMP Parc is an all-in price (including capital) under a PFI contract.

legal eagle

Think this one will be pretty unanimous.

On the issue of prison discipline: instead of giving a discount on the sentence for good behaviour, why not simply increase the sentence for bad behaviour. This would show that good behaviour is what is expected.

Denis Cooper

Because it should not be possible to substantially increase a man's sentence without a full hearing before an external court, rather than through the governor's internal disciplinary procedure.


Agree with all above.

Plus Legal Eagle, I've always thought that! Spot on.

How bizarre to reward a criminal for displaying good behaviour (ie that which we all expect) by early release.

How much more obvious to ensure the criminal serves the term set and that good behaviour is expected whilst bad behaviour is punished (by additions to the sentence).


So grant prison governors more power.

David Boothroyd

This policy sounds good until you examine it closely.

First question: is it intended that there will be a general increase of the length of sentences, or is it that the sentence passed will decrease to the time that would be served? In other words, suppose a burglar is at the moment sentenced to four years and released with a tag after two. Under this policy would the burglar be sentenced to four years and serve four years, or would they be sentenced to two years instead?

If it is the former then there would need to be a massive prison-building programme. There is also vanishingly little in the way of penological evidence that longer sentences actually lower crime rates.

Even if it is the latter then you encounter another problem. Early release can be delayed in the case of a prisoner who offends against prison discipline, but automatic release at the end of a sentence can't. To extend a prison sentence would need a full judicial hearing. So this policy change would at a stroke deprive prison warders of much of the control over prison behaviour as there would be no reason for a prisoner to behave well.

Denis Cooper

Considering all the outrageous cases which have been publicised, it would be easy to support this policy. However I'm not going to support it, because it could end up being the only policy on the penal system and it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the mass of problems which need to be addressed.

Before anybody jumps in and accuses me of being soft on criminals, I believe that we should defy the EU and restore the death penalty for a small number of the worst murderers each year, and that would both save many innocent lives and also provide an upper anchor point for all other sentences.

However I also believe that we should revisit important principles which have been ignored in practice: the balance between deterrence, retribution, public safety, and reform and rehabilitation, and the paramount need to rigorously segregate different types of prisoner. In my view we should probably replace all the existing prisons with many much smaller units to give the flexibility needed to achieve proper segregation and ensure the most suitable regime for each prisoner.


David: Merely because a judicial hearing is necessary at the moment to increase a prisoner's sentence is not a reason for it not to happen.

Change the law!


Is illegal behaviour in prisons not subject to prosecution (violence, drug taking or dealing)? Why cannot bad behaviour (illegal behaviour) simply result in another prosecution?


If you go back and read the article and thread thoroughly I think you will find that most of your points have already been addressed. One remains:
"There is also vanishingly little in the way of penological evidence that longer sentences actually lower crime rates."

If prisoners are in jail it is awfully hard for them to re-offend.

(Contrast this with the plethora of crimes committed by prisoners on early release, hitting our headlines on a daily basis)


Yet again David Davies comes up trumps- definite yes for this one.

More, and securer, prisons are what we need. A major reason prison doesn't work as effectively as it could at the moment is that so many prison officers are corrupt/incompetent, allowing inmates to keep up drug addictions etc


"There is also vanishingly little in the way of penological evidence that longer sentences actually lower crime rates.

This is simply not true. When you dig into them these studies always look at rates of recidivism - i.e. they only look at criminals who are out of jail, and therefore ignore the effect on crime rates of keeping the criminals in a cage.


simon meadowcroft

A qualified yes!

The proposal isn't really about changing the length of time prisoners serve. Its about simple honesty - and thats got to be a good thing.

As David and others point out alternative ways of enforcing prison discipline will have to be worked up. But this doesn't deflect from the virtue of a sound, decent, conmmon sence policy which will play extremely well in the country at large.

Denis Cooper

deborah @ 12:04 - "If prisoners are in jail it is awfully hard for them to re-offend."

They can't re-offend outside, that's for sure, but what goes on in our prisons is quite appalling and much of it goes completely unpunished. I know one could say, oh well it's only criminals raping other criminals, forcing them into drug addiction, beating each other up. But there are criminals and criminals, which is why there must be much better segregation of different kinds, which I suspect cannot be achieved within large prisons. In any case, almost all of them will eventually be released. It's stupid to spend money putting offenders into places where they're actually made into even worse people and then setting them loose on the public. I'm a firm believer that prison can work, but it clearly isn't working at the moment.

Incidentally I notice Wat Tyler above referred to "in-cell sanitation, natural and forced ventilation, in-cell electrics, in-cell TV, Pool & Table Tennis Tables" but not "in-cell CCTV". I'm fed up being told that if I'm monitored by CCTV all the time it will make me safer, while apparently prisoners are not monitored to the extent that they cannot commit crimes without being detected. It might be a good idea to move all the CCTV cameras inside prisons.


I am in favour of it as "honesty in sentencing" but not a doubling of all prison sentences. In practice, unless this were combined with a whole raft of new minimum sentences, there would not be, because judges would be bound to adjust to a significant extent. If doubling time in jail is the intended policy then the proposer would be much better off if he defined what offences should have their sentences increased, and by how much (and yes, then combined that with the "honesty in sentencing" idea).

Also it would be daft to abolish parole boards because surely if prison is partly for rehabilitation there has to be discretion as to whether rehabilitation has taken place. What about those cases of "life" but with min recommendation of x?

Finally, you cannot discount the disciplinary benefit of variable sentences for varying behaviour. Would the best solution be sentences along the lines "2 years, to increase to up to 3 years in the event of bad behaviour" with some right of appeal to the equivalent of a parole board if an increase on the basic 2 years were proposed by the Prison Governor?

So I do not think this is worked up well enough to yet deserve approval. In the absence of a "refer back" option, I would have to vote against.

Eleanor McHugh

Beware the diatribe below...

Whilst I agree in principle that a sentence issued should be the sentence served, the knee-jerk reaction that prison's sole role is one of punishment seems to fly in the face of our own best interest. Rehabilitation is not only about making prisoners nicer people in some fluffy liberal sense, it's about teaching them the benefits to themselves of being a law-abiding and hard-working member of the community such that they embrace those values and help with building the common wealth on which all civilised society is based.

Consequently the concept of parole is not about rewarding prisoners for being well-behaved (although there is no doubt that this is how it is currently applied) but about allowing those who have demonstrated a genuine change in their own behaviour - which surely must be above reproach during their incarceration - to be allowed a second chance at living a law-abiding life as upright members of the community. This should not be purely a case of good behaviour, but of assuming responsibility in some aspect of communal prison life and discharging it decently and impartially.

There is also no doubt that the parole system needs to be completely overhauled so that prisoners released on license realise that any infraction of the law would result in their swift return to custody and the completion of their current sentence (without further hope of parole) before starting their new sentence.

With regard to more serious crimes, I think we can all accept that a rational human being may in a moment of extreme provocation be driven to murder and that there is potential for mitigating circumstances, but that sexual crimes by their very nature fall outside the bounds of rational human behaviour. The latter should carry a mandatory life sentence in a secure mental facility where release would be dependant upon comprehensive proof of rehabilitation - subject of course to appeals, etc. as locking up innocent people in no way benefits society and courts are as imperfect as their members!

Likewise more care needs to be exercised in identifying schizophrenia and other mental conditions amongst convicted offenders as these are one cause of wider discipline problems. Clearly distinguishing between detention of criminals and treatment of serious mental disorders which put others at risk of physical harm would hopefully make helping each group confront their particular problems and overcome them that much easier. Regardless, it would reduce the difficulties involved in good prison management.

Incidentally why should the state be responsible for paying for prisons? Given the ready source of labour I don't see any reason why they shouldn't be entirely self-funding through meaningful industry: farming, public construction, light industry, knowledge-based work, etc. So long as these were genuinely geared to rehabilitating inmates as opposed to the 'State Farm' approach common in certain US states (i.e. fair wages for work performed, fair fees for services provided, devolution of responsibility, useful qualifications on completion of term, etc.) this would be a genuinely enlightened reform of the prison system, whilst at the same time removing the burden on the tax-payer.

When we deplore the high rate of recidivism amongst former convicts we tend to forget that detention by and of itself merely removes them from circulation for a few years, it does nothing to show them the virtues that we as conservatives believe in: social responsibility, self-respect, self-discipline and the benefits of hard work. By turning prisons into commercial enterprises and demonstrating directly the benefits of hard work for one's own profit and that of one's community we would rehabilitate many more prisoners than under the current system - and by giving each prisoner a stake in the success of their prison's commercial ventures we would with time inculcate the self-respect that so many studies have shown repeat offenders lack.

If I hadn't already had a crack at this '100 Policies' thing I'd be tempted to submit this for consideration ;)

Denis Cooper

There are those who are genuinely mentally ill, who would have been in mental hospitals until those were shut down. There are also those who are illiterate - although not necessarily unintelligent - and who are still illiterate when they come out of prison. I would have thought that a prison sentence would offer a good opportunity to rectify basic defects in their education as they can't bunk off as they perhaps did at school - in fact in some cases release could be linked to the achievement of a specified educational standard. Then there are the junkies, but as drugs circulate freely within many prisons it's quite likely that somebody who went in without any history of drug use will be compulsorily introduced to drugs inside. Then of course there are the foreign prisoners, many of whom had no legal right to be in the country in the first place and then we have to pay for the cost of their crimes. One Nigerian given a long sentence for a massive benefits fraud recently had already been deported twice, but had no problem getting back in.

David Simpson

Honesty in sentencing (and all that it implies) - agree 100%

However, a large number (I suspect the majority, from personal experience) of prisoners simply should not be there. To give one example - what proportion of prisoners have come from the care system? In many cases children have been in the 'care' of the state from infancy and have, through lack of real care, if not positive abuse, had their life prospects ruined by the same state that then locks them up as adults.

Second, it is easy for the red tops and some of the contributors above to focus on the absurdities - the child abuser let out on license who abuses again, for example. The vast majority of villains are inadequate, poorly educated, mentally ill, institutionalised or simply a menace to themselves. Do we really want to create an American-style system which locks up a disproportionate number of young black males?

The danger of this policy is that it is populist, but fails to address the issue in the round. If we are to have a policy, let it be a full policy, not just a headline grabber.


I agree with the need to use prison terms effectively to educate prisoners and reduce the "school of crime" effect.
But the proposals for full sentencing are not incompatible with better prison management - why turn down a good proposal because it doesn't go far enough? Why not support the proposal and then build on it?

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