More and more people in Britain are being sentenced to jail time: this
is a fact. In 2004, there are currently over eighty thousand inmates.
(Peter Reydt, 2004 / Scottish Executive, 2003) Crime is on the
increase but our prisons are already overcrowded. Consequently, new
prisons will be required to accommodate prisoners. Where will the
money come from to pay for the construction of new prisons? Will they
have a sufficient rehabilitation programs in place? The prison
system is obviously failing because it is not acting as a deterrent.
Clearly we should now be examining why the system is failing and
possible alternatives to prison. What should these alternatives be?
Would they work and would they be seen as a suitable punishment?
First of all, I'd like to look at why the prison service is failing.
Ten years ago, Britain's prison population was actually on the decline
(Casciani, 2002). This was due to the government at the time
implementing more community based punishments over the use of prison
sentencing. However, not all of the Home Secretaries of the time -
Kenneth Baker and Kenneth Clarke - agreed with this policy and soon
changed their minds and began to follow up on the 'rhetoric of being
'tough' on crime'(Cascianni, 2002) by asking the courts to sentence
more people to prison.
Due to these sterner policies being put in place, the government
figures in 1999 actually showed that there were now more than twenty
four thousand people being sent to prison than there were ten years
previous.(Cascianni, 2002) This was despite no change in the amount
of adults being convicted of offenses. The government's 2001 Halliday
Report, which was put in place to investigate prison sentencing,
concluded that the toughening up of sentencing did not mean that there
were more serious crimes being committed. Consequently, all this
'toughening up' on crime just seemed to be adding more and more
numbers to the prison population. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary of
the time, wanted to increase the use of electronic tagging to try and
help ease the numbers entering prison but, on the other hand, he
wanted to toughen up sentencing for offenders he described as "the
worst anti-social crimes such as burglary"(Cascianni, 2002). This
appears that Jack Straw was trying to decrease the prison population
but at the same time increase it - a rather contradictory message.
Since David Blunkett's hard line speeches in 2002, the Howard League
for Penal Reform who have been monitoring the prison numbers since
2001, noticed that the actual number of people being sent to prison
had been constant until he started making tough speeches about crime
and punishment. Since then, up to 500 more people per week have been
sentenced to prison - a huge number and a huge burden on the prison