Labour announces plans to reduce the number of victims of crime by scrapping ineffective short sentences and investing in proven alternatives to custody
At his speech to Labour Party Conference today (Sunday), Richard Burgon MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, will outline Labour’s plans to reduce the number of victims of crime and the costs of reoffending by ending ineffective short prison sentences and investing in proven alternatives.
Burgon will commit Labour to legislating for a presumption against ineffective custodial sentences of less than six months. This will not apply to those who have committed violent or sexual offences.
Burgon will also announce plans to invest in alternatives to custodial sentences that are proven to reduce reoffending, reducing both the number of victims and the economic costs. This includes properly funding the female offender strategy, women’s centres and problem-solving courts that tackle the root causes of offending.
On Labour’s plans Richard Burgon MP, said:
“Under the Tories our criminal justice system too often fails its key task of tackling reoffending. That means we have more victims of crime and our communities are less safe.
“Sending people to prison for a few weeks is often the worst way to tackle the drug addictions, mental health and debt problems that lead to people to commit certain crimes in the first place. The Ministry of Justice’s own evidence shows there would be tens of thousands of fewer crimes if ineffective short prison sentences were scrapped.
“For some offenders – including those who have committed rape, murder and other violent or sexual offences – prison will always be necessary. But jailing others for a few weeks in a prison system in crisis reduces the chances of rehabilitation, making reoffending more likely. Yet thousands of people are being jailed each year for shoplifting and figures I recently uncovered show nearly half of all women sent to prison were homeless.
“Instead of the Tories investing scarce justice resources in new prison places that just repeats the errors of the past, we will invest effective alternatives that keep people safe.”
Notes to Editors
On ineffective short sentences
- Reoffending costs are estimated at £18bn per year. (Economic and social costs of reoffending Analytical report, MOJ, July 2019) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/814650/economic-social-costs-reoffending.pdf
- Reoffending among short-sentenced prisoners is very high, creating further victims of crime. Nearly two-thirds of short-term prisoners go on to reoffend, committing crime costing an estimated £7-10bn per year. https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/media/press-releases/2019/05/prs/
- One in three people given a custodial sentence are sentenced to less than three months in prison, with half getting less than six months. For women it is even worse – half receive a three-month sentence or less, and two-thirds receive six months or less. (See table below)
|Number of offenders sentenced to immediate custody (2017)|
|Less than 2 weeks||1,456||246||1,715|
|2 weeks to less than 1 month||9,198||1,547||10,865|
|1 month to less than 3 months||16,059||2,197||18,436|
|3 months to less than 6 months||12,281||933||13,323|
|6 months to less than 12 months||9,769||625||10,426|
|Over 12 months||26,578||1,511||28,095|
- Latest Ministry of Justice figures show those released from sentences of less than 6 months had a proven reoffending rate of 64.8 per cent https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/832662/proven_reoffending_bulletin_July_to_Sept_17.pdf
- Reoffending rates are higher for people sent to prison for short sentences, compared to those given community sentences. A new Ministry of Justice research paper (July 2019) states “a statistically significant increase in proven reoffending” for those on short sentences rather than effective community alternatives. (Source: MOJ “The impact of short custodial sentences, community orders and suspended sentence orders on reoffending”) https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/814177/impact-short-custodial-sentences.pdf
- Many vulnerable people are being sent to prison for non-violent crimes on counterproductive short sentences. For example, almost half (47 per cent) of women sentenced to a short custodial sentence had committed shoplifting. (Female Offender Strategy https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/719819/female-offender-strategy.pdf)
- The Ministry of Justice’s own evidence shows over 30,000 fewer crimes each year by replacing ineffective short prison sentences of less than six months with a community order.
- In March 2019 Labour launched a consultation on “Building an Effective Criminal Justice System” to explore justice reforms. That review concluded with the recommendation that Labour adopt a Scottish-style presumption against short sentences and develop alternatives to custody. https://www.policyforum.labour.org.uk/commissions/home-affairs/building-an-effective-criminal-justice-system
- The Justice Select Committee supports the move to abolish “short, ineffective prison sentences” and has called on the government to “introduce a presumption against short custodial sentences”. https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news-parliament-2017/prison-population-2022-report-published-17-19/
- Over the past 25 years, the prison population for England and Wales has almost doubled in size – from 44,246 in 1993 to 82,384 in December 2018. https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/justice-committee/news-parliament-2017/prison-population-2022-report-published-17-19/
Labour’s alternative plan
- Following its consultation, the next Labour government will legislate to introduce a presumption against ineffective super-short sentences of six months or less for non-violent and non-sexual offences, drawing on the scheme implemented in Scotland.
- A Labour government will also immediately provide the significant boost that women’s justice campaigners have been calling for to plug the current funding gaps in the female offender strategy. Members of the government’s own Advisory Board on Female Offenders expressed their frustration at it’s underfunding, stating that at least £20m is required annually for community provision. However, the government only provided a one-off two-year grant of £5m to fund the strategy. https://weareagenda.org/open-letter-to-justice-secretary/
- Labour will use some of those funds lined up for additional prison places to fund schemes actually proven to reduce reoffending, including Women’s Centres. In her landmark report on female offenders, Baroness Corston called for both an expansion of and sustained funding for Women’s Centres in the community as “one-stop shops” to prevent women entering or returning to the criminal justice system. She also called on the Government to “think strategically by investing in Women’s Centre support as a serious alternative to custody.” https://www.womeninprison.org.uk/perch/resources/corston-report-10-years-on.pdf
- Labour’s Shadow Justice Team is drawing up plans to invest in problem-solving courts that tackle the root causes of offending. More information on problem solving courts is available here. https://justiceinnovation.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/2019-03/problem-solving-courts-an-evidence-review.pdf