Towards Effective Sentencing

House of Commons Justice Committee
July 2008

effective-sentencingThe purpose of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 in the United Kingdom was to provide overall structure and clarity to sentencing in England and Wales by reserving prison for the most dangerous offenders, while moving lower level offenders away from short prison sentences into robust and rehabilitative community punishments.

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Nevertheless, there is cosensus that the prison population is growing too fast and that custody, especially short sentences, is not an effective approach for many offenders in terms of achieving rehabilitation or reform; with prison often characterised as "an expensive way of making bad people worse". The committee's report looked at the main provisions of the Act and made a series of detailed recommendations around the issues of Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences, short custodial sentences, non-custodial responses to offending, breaches of licence and vulnerable offenders.

The inquiry is set within the context of a historically high prison population in England and Wales. On 31 May 2008 the population in custody reached a record high of 82,822. The last nine years have brought a 26% rise in the number of people locked up with 16,000 new prison places since 1997. The over 80,000 people held in prison means that per 100,000 people we are holding 152 in prison—the highest rate among major countries in Western Europe, far in excess of Germany, France, Italy, Denmark and Ireland. Recent crises, involving overcrowding and the necessity of early release schemes, have drawn attention to the problems in the criminal justice system in England and Wales. The continuing upward trend in the prison population has been maintained, and enhanced, by the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and points to more fundamental
problems with both prisons and sentencing policy.