Liberal Democrats

F5: Tackling Overcrowding in the Prison System

17 members

Mover: Durgesh Hari Prabu
Summation: Stephen Crosher

Conference notes that:

  1. The last three decades have seen the sharpest rise in English and Welsh prison numbers with a population of 44,975 in 1990 almost doubling in just twenty-six years to today’s level of 84,874.
  2. In December 2016, the useable operational capacity of the prison system was 86,288 and eighty out of 124 prisons in total were past 100% capacity and eighteen more were past 95% capacity.
  3. In November 2016, 3859 people remained Imprisoned for Public Protection and of those roughly 3200 had served their minimum term.
  4. Prison officer numbers have been cut by 30% since 2010.
  5. In the prison system in the twelve months leading up to September 2016, there were 107 suicides and five homicides (in 1990 there were 51 suicides and 4 homicides) and in the twelve months leading up to June 2016 there were 36,440 incidents of self-harm (up 26% on the previous year) and 23,775 incidents of assault (up 34% on the previous year).
  6. The proven adult re-offending rate within a year for people released from custody in 2014 was 45.5%.
  7. The cost in 2015-2016 per prisoner was £32,510 and the annual cost of re-offending to England and Wales is estimated to be between £7.4 billion and £10.7 billion.
  8. The riot in HMP Birmingham on 16th December 2016 is the largest since that which occurred in Strangeways prison in 1990.
  9. Currently the re-offending rate of adults released from prison is 44.7% (2014-2015 ) and the reoffending
    rate of those leaving a prison sentence of 12 months or less is closer to 60%.
  10. By contrast, those serving a community sentence, suspended sentence or on licence, under the
    supervision of the Community Rehabilitation Companies have a re-offending rate of 32% (2014-
    2015).

Conference believes that:

  1. The Liberal Democrat values of championing the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals should extend to all people regardless of whether they are free, convicted or imprisoned.
  2. While the change in Government rhetoric concerning the purpose of prisons and the need for them
    to be places of education and rehabilitation is welcome, the fact remains that the Government’s
    ambitions on education and rehabilitation will fail unless active steps are taken to tackle overcrowding
    by ensuring that fewer people are sent to prison.
  3. The more people we imprison and the more prison staff we cut, the greater the risk is of prisoners and staff suffering from violence and self-harm.
  4. The prison system is only as effective in reducing crime as the quality of services it provides in education, training, and health-care; these services become overstretched through prison overcrowding and public safety is therefore put at risk upon prisoners’ release.
  5. The effect of prisoners being locked up in their cells for very long hours each day with far too little purposeful activity has been disastrous and has seriously impeded prisoners’ successful rehabilitation.
  6. The criminal justice system should prioritise preventing re-offending over punishment; if an individual could be better motivated outside of prison to not commit offences through treatment for health conditions, assistance to find employment, classes to challenge behaviour, or monitoring them in or excluding them from certain locations or activities, a penal sentence should be avoided.
  7. An effective and well resourced after-care service is at least as important in the prevention of reoffending
    as work done within a well ordered prison.
  8. There are inconsistencies across the country in the way in which prisoners are passed from the prison service to the National Probation Service or Community Rehabilitation Companies on release.
  9. The Liberal Democrat policy to decriminalise possession of drugs for personal use will help tackle prison overcrowding.
  10. Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences breached offenders’ human rights and caused difficulty in managing the prison population at a safe and effective level.

Conference calls for:

  1. A drastic overhaul in sentencing policy and cross-party collaboration to reduce the prison population as well as the conditional release of all prisoners on indeterminate sentences who have served their minimum term.
  2. The Home Secretary to increase prison officer levels and other staff beyond the additional resource promised by the current Government  promised to reach a safe prisoner-to-officer ratioand to increase the quality and effectiveness of work done with the inmates of the prisons.
  3. The development of a comprehensive, well-resourced and mandatory education programme within all prisons, suited to the different categories of prisoner and matched to their needs.///
  4. A smooth transition into better-funded National Probation Service or Community Rehabilitation Companies for all released prisoners.
  5. A presumption against short custodial sentences of under six months///
  6. Where a short custodial sentence is deemed necessary, offenders who meet the safety requirements for release should be offered opportunities for earlier release through good behaviour and cooperation, and should then serve the remainder of the sentence under the supervision of a Community Rehabilitation Company; the supervision time should be set by the court at the time of sentencing.

Applicability: England and Wales.

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