07:24, May 26 50 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-26 07:24:25
Short prison sentences do not work, says justice secretary

Short prison sentences of less than 12 months do not rehabilitate prisoners and should be a last resort, the justice secretary has said, adding that the UK is now holding too many people in jail.

David Gauke, who is overseeing an overcrowded prison service rife with violence and drug use, said that he would like to see the prison population come down, with alternatives to short spells in jail for the least serious offenders.

Gauke told the Times that he wants to start a wider debate about “what punishment means”, noting that prisoners held for less than a year have a recidivism rate of about 66%, higher than the reoffending rate of those handed non-custodial sentence.

“Twenty-five years ago the [prison] population was 44,000. Today it’s 84,000,” he said. “I would like it to fall.”

He said efforts to cut the number of people incarcerated would depend on “how successfully we can build confidence in non-custodial sentences and how effective we can be in reducing re-offending”.

Gauke said the rise had been driven by “longer and tougher” sentences for serious crimes. But he acknowledged concerns about the role of shorter terms, saying: “There is an issue about public protection, but I think we need to look at the efficacy of short sentences.”

For some groups, there should also be a move towards alternatives to incarceration. Female offenders – who are often victims of domestic abuse – have “particularly complex needs”, he said, while prison can be “absolutely the worst place” for people with mental health problems.

Gauke’s suggestions come days after he suggested that prisoners could fill the gaps in the workforce caused by the UK leaving the European Union.