Features

Population explosion

Staff, September 7th 2017

Prison numbers are at an all-time high. The prison population of England and Wales rose by about 90 per cent to just over 85,500 between 1990 and 2016. In Scotland, the increase was 62 per cent, to just under 7,500.

Here are some ideas to reduce numbers:

1. Reform drug laws and improve access to addiction services Drugs offences account for 15 per cent of all prison sentences (nearly 20 per cent for under-18s), and the figures for theft are about the same. Many argue that number would fall drastically if we both addressed both our drug laws and made sure that rehab was available to everyone who needs it.

Get help: If you want to address drug or alcohol problems, calling your GP or local drug treatment service is a good place to start. Ask your support worker or call the drug helpline on 0300 123 6600 for information. If you’re clean and ready to take the next step, why not volunteer for a drug reform charity such as Transform and help other people overcome their addictions (you may need to disclose your criminal convictions to join): www.tdpf.org.uk

2. Offer better mental health services About 70 per cent of prisoners have two or more diagnosable metal health conditions when they enter prison, according to the Prison Reform Trust. Many have been unable to get the help they need in the community – black and ethnic minority groups struggle, in particular, and are 40 per cent more likely to get help after being sentenced than through a GP referral.

Get help: If you are struggling with your mental health, speak to your GP and ask for a referral. Even if you are homeless, all GPs should register you. Mental health charity Mind is also a good source of information: www.mind.org.uk

3. End prison sentences under six months Recent figures show that 57 per cent of those who had served less than six months in prison went on to re-offend. The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 introduced “a presumption” against prison sentences of less than three months, limiting them to when there is no other option. But it still happens. In 2015–16, 4,066 individuals were given prison sentences of less than three months – equivalent to nearly 30 per cent of all prison sentences.

What you can do: Volunteer to help build a fairer criminal justice system – you could mentor a young person, or help at on a community justice project. Don’t let having a criminal record put you off. Lived experience can be an advantage in some roles.
Find out more at the Prison Reform Trust: www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/GetInvolveduk

4. Value family contact Keeping close family ties can help prevent reoffending. However, due to distance or circumstance some family members will be unable to see or speak to their loved one as often as they can, if at all.
There are no official figures, but it is estimated 200,000 children in England and Wales and 30,000 children in Scotland have had a parent in prison.
Families have noted that having a loved one in prison makes it feel like they are also serving a sentence. In August, Reform Scotland called for pilots looking at innovative ideas for increasing contact.

Get help: Many prisons have family visiting facilities – ask what is available. Family Lives has good advice: http://tinyurl.com/yapwexff
In Scotland you can visit www.familiesoutside.org.uk
Check with the prison about local support groups too.

5. Stop locking up women About 80 per cent of women who go to prison commit non-violent offences. They are twice as likely as men to have no previous convictions. But, it is claimed that women receive harsher treatment from the criminal justice system than men for equivalent crimes. They are often victims too. According to the Prison Reform Trust, not only have half of women in prison experienced domestic violence, 53 per cent suffered abuse while they were children. Women are also nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression as men in prison.

Get help: Women in Prison is a good starting point to find out more about the help on offer: www.womeninprison.org.uk.
Treasures Foundation offers accommodation via a referral process for women with a history of offending and addiction – treasuresfoundation.org.uk
In Glasgow, Tomorrow’s Women offers everything from prison gate pick-up to mentoring, trauma support and more: http://tinyurl.com/y7rhkww8

 

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November/December 2017

 
 

London edition (PDF 621KB)

 

Scottish edition (PDF 495KB)