Problems at a minimum. Prisons should always be
Problems facing Prisons in England and Wales Figures from the Howard League for Penal Reform state that there are currently over 80,000 people in prison in England and Wales today.
The prison population has been rising steadily since 1993, increasing from 42,000 to today’s unprecedented levels. England and Wales have the highest number of people in prison within Western Europe, with 148 per 100,000 of the population being imprisoned in 2006 (Walmsley 2006).The fact that prisons are heavily overcrowded has meant that several debilitating factors have occurred, such as two people being held in a cell which is designed for one, leading to them having to use unscreened toilets, which in turn means that they lose even the most basic of human dignity. Community punishments can take on many forms, and the general principles applying to all community penalties are found in Section 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.
These principles state that a ‘community order’ means any of the following orders, namely: a probation order, a community service order, a combination order, a curfew order, a supervision order, and an attendance centre order. Focusing on these forms of punishment could help keep the prison population at a minimum. Prisons should always be used within our society for the most serious offenders such as murderers and rapists, so as to keep them incarcerated and away from harming society again.
However, community sentences are a cheaper and more effective way to punish offenders.Replacing 20,000 prison places with alternative sentences would save the taxpayer ? 690 million, and community sentences reduce offending by 14%. (Howard online). Research has also shown that the public do not necessarily call for offenders to be sent to prison. For example, an ICM survey for the Ministry of Justice of 1,085 victims of non-violent crime in the UK found that 81 percent of victims would prefer an offender to receive an effective sentence rather than a harsh one with nearly two thirds (63 percent) disagreeing that prison is always the best way to punish someone.
Home Office research suggests that 10 per cent of offenders are committing half of all crimes in England and Wales at any point in time (Hone Office 2001). The Carter Report, which was published in 2003, recommended targeted and rigorous sentences, specifying for ‘persistent’ offenders not only greater control and surveillance, but also help to reduce their reoffending. These intensive programmes offer an “imaginative and alternative opportunity for the management of this group of offenders” (Bottoms et al (2004: 268).
There are several examples of programmes which have been carried out on prolific and persistent offenders, for example, the Stoke-on-Trent Prolific Offender Project by a research team at Keel University (Worrall et al 2003) However there was no significant difference in the average number of convictions between the groups after the participants left the project. This therefore indicates that more follow up and support may be needed after completion of projects such as this.If this happened, then less people would be inclined to reoffend, which may therefore lead to a reduction in the prison population, it was also found that the programme had other benefits, such as it keeping them occupied, and built up their confidence in doing everyday things such as finding accommodation, social interaction and paying bills.
Therefore it could be recommended that more community programmes could be based around these elements, as these appear to help the offenders’ function in everyday life, which may therefore lead to less recidivism amongst offenders.Vass (1990) states that punishment in the community is seen as a means of keeping prison places available for more serious crimes and alleviating overcrowding. It is suggested that punishment administered in the community is also ‘humane punishment’ because it helps offenders to remain in their “natural habitat, community and families”.
It helps them to “retain their jobs and teaches them to be self reliant and responsible”. Through their supervised activities, offenders can contribute to their own well being as well as that of the community.Tonry (2004) states that if a there was a greater use of community punishments, and the prison population was reduced by a third, then the level of crime should actually come down.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, recidivism studies comparing re-offending by people released from prisons or community penalties generally conclude that ex-prisoners do worse and have higher re-offending rates. However, the Halliday report concluded that “there is currently no discernible difference between conviction rates for custody and for community penalties” (Home Office 2001b:126).Prisons have been criticised as being schools for crime in which offenders become more deeply socialised into criminal values and from which they are released stigmatized as ‘ex cons’. This is why several countries, including Germany have nearly eliminated the use if prison if the sentence is under six months.
As Tonry (2004:82) states, if treatment programmes can reduce reoffending – and the evidence is that they can- the release in dividend will permit substantial crime prevention gains”.Therefore, if the prison population was reduced, and replaced by punishment in the community, the funds saved by cutting prison numbers could be utilised to help fund more effective programmes within the community. One of the main reasons for Halliday’s proposal to create a single community punishment order that could encompass any from among a wide range of supervision, treatment, training, work, reparations, residential and other conditions, was that there was a large body of evidence on the effectiveness of treatment programmes in the community.Halliday’s report states that the research literature shows that “some things can work for some people, provided the right programmes are selected and implemented properly” (Home Office 2001b: 7). Furthermore, “if programmes are developed and applied as intended, and to the maximum extent possible, reconviction rates might be reduced by 5-25 percentage points (i. e. , front the present level of 56 per cent to (perhaps) 40 per cent”).
Therefore it can be seen that the sentencing framework proposed by Halliday in 2000 presents the argument that a single community punishment could help reduce reoffending, in turn cutting the prison population.. Several studies have supported the fact that community punishment can have positive effects upon offenders. For example, Rex (2002) carried out 65 in depth interviews with victims, offenders, magistrates and probation practitioners in which they discussed things such as their understanding of punishment and how community sentences contribute to penal aims.Rex found that community punishment enables offenders to see that they had something to contribute to society, and therefore to gain “grounded increments in self esteem” (Rex 2002), and the offenders questioned within her research described themselves as gaining a sense of achievement through probation as well as community service. Their experiences partaking in community service or being supervised on a probation order were both seen to have the potential to develop offenders’ awareness of the impact of their behaviour on other people.Rex states that “The reintegrative and rehabilitative possibilities offered by community penalties surely mean that they merit our serious attention in their own right” (2002:139).
Therefore, it can be seen that offenders on community punishment schemes can find them rewarding. If this means that they will be less inclined to reoffend then this will mean that community punishments will have made some progress in reducing the prison population within England and Wales. Since the Criminal Justice Act 1991, there have been several alternative types of residential and non-residential treatment requirement available.The government introduced a specific community penalty entitled the Drug Treatment and Testing Order in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which was rolled out nationally in 2000. This order contains a mandate for compulsory drug testing, and direct court oversight of the management of orders and progress of individuals. One of the most thorough evaluations of the effectiveness of drug treatment undertaken has been the UK National Treatment Outcome Research Study, which followed users for four to five years after their intake into residential and outpatient methadone programmes.The programme found significant reductions in drug use, the high-risk drug behaviours of injecting and equipment sharing, symptoms of psychological distress and criminal activity one year after intake into treatment.
These effects persisted after four or five years (Gossop et al 2003 in Rumgay) “criminality is not generally regarded as a specific treatment target within the therapeutic drug setting” (Rumgay 2004:259), however desistance from substantial criminal activity occurred, apparently as a consequence of the improvements in problematic drug use and/ or psychological health.Rumgay suggests several crucial issues that need to be considered when developing treatment provision for substance misusing offenders. Fir example, she states that expansions in the accountability of treatment services, and particular forms of outreach, such as arrest referral schemes and prison aftercare may be particularly important in raising offenders’ awareness of and confidence in opportunities for help. She also argues that diverse treatment opportunities are required which include both voluntary and compulsory pathways, rather than being constrained within a limited range of specifically accredited programmes.It can also be argued that community punishments could be used in place of short prison sentences.
(Wasik 2004:297) in Bottoms et al (2004) has argued that “short sentences are now generally recognised as being largely ineffective”. The government accepted the arguments as to the ineffectiveness of short custodial sentences which were presented to them in 2001 in the Halliday Report. Halliday stated that “one of the most important deficiencies in the present framework is the lack of utility in short prison sentences…. he sentence is used for large numbers of persistent offenders with multiple problems and high risk of reoffending… a more effective recipe for failure could hardly be conceived…” (Halliday 2001, para 3.
1). One way of ensuring that short prison sentences are not unnecessarily used is the new ‘custody plus’ sentence. This is designed so that offenders serve a short period in custody and then go on to have a longer period of structured supervision in the community. Wasik (2004:298) states that what this sentence will do is “take away from the courts power to pass ‘simple’ short terms of imprisonment”.However, as Wasik asks, given the “restrictive and onerous nature of the community requirements of at least 26 weeks which come with a short custodial term, would not a community sentence with appropriate requirements do the job just as well? ” (Wasik 2004:298).
This seems like a good argument, as there would be little chance for rehabilitation to take place within prison if the offender only serves a short sentence. It seems more practical for the offender to simply be punished in the community.Another way in which community punishments could be used to cut the prison population could be to punish more women in the community as opposed to incarcerating them.. When someone is sent to prison, it needs to be taken into account that it may not only be the person who is imprisoned that is affected. If the incarcerated person has a family, it will more than likely have a significant knock on effect on them. Although most women serve short sentences, with nearly two-thirds (63%) being sentenced to less than six months in custody, the effects on their children can be devastating.
At the end of September 2006 the average distance female prisoners were held from their home was 58 miles. This therefore means that it is difficult for their families and children to visit them. According to the Social Exclusion Unit (2002), only half of the women who had lived, or were in contact with, their children prior to imprisonment had received a visit since going to prison. Also, just 5% of women prisoners’ children remain in their own home once their mother has been sentenced.
This therefore means that disruption is being caused to a lot of children’s lives as a result of having a parent in prison.HM Prisons Inspectorate has found that 25% of women prisoners had their children’s father or a spouse or partner caring for their children. 25% were cared for by their grandmothers; 29% were cared for by other family members or friends and 12% were in care, with foster parents, or had been adopted.
The fact that that 12% of children end up in care, with a foster parent or being adopted as a result of their mother going into prison is quite alarming, as this will be a total upheaval for the child, and may cause the child much distress, such as moving schools or moving away from friends.Therefore it can be seen that incarcerating people who have children, especially mothers, can have adverse effects on the children involved. Nacro (2000) has found that during their sentence 45% of people lose contact with their families and many separate from their partners. Therefore, it can be argued that a community sentence may be a better punishment to give women, especially those with children, as this would mean that less children would lose contact with their mothers.The argument that community punishment is a better sanction for women with children is also endorsed by public opinion.
Public opinion polls have shown that the vast majority of people believe that women with young children should not be sent to prison for non-violent offences. For example, An ICM public opinion poll, commissioned by SmartJustice in March 2007, found that, of 1,006 respondents, almost three quarters (73%) thought that mothers of young children should not be sent to prison for non-violent crime.The fact that having a parent in prison may be harmful for their children is supported by findings from the Social Exclusion Unit (2002), which found that nearly a third (30%) of prisoners’ children suffer significant mental health problems, compared with 10% of the general population. Is also found that prisoners’ families, including their children, often experience increased financial, housing, emotional and health problems during a sentence. This again provides a strong argument that community sentences may be better for women, in particular those with children.A Home Office study found that made sentencing decisions were reluctant to impose fines upon female offenders, which resulted in both an increase in the number of acquittals and increases in the number of community penalties imposed (Hedderman and Dowds 1997).
However, this practice is now considered patronising and intrusive, and it has resulted in women entering formal criminal justice sanctions at a higher level, leading to possible imprisonment earlier in their careers. One possible explanation for the use of custody as opposed to ommunity sentences for women could be due to the fact that there is a lack of suitable or practical community sanctions for female offenders (Worrall 1990). Deakin and Spencer (2003:130) have noted that community punishment has been “viewed through a gendered lens”, and Worrall 1990 suggests that it is largely viewed as a young man’s punishment. McIvor (1999) also states that there are other reasons for the under use of community punishment, such as problems with childcare and shortage of female supervisors.However, the issue of childcare would be more of a problem if the child’s mother was incarcerated for a period of weeks or months, as opposed to a few hours a day which would be the case with a community punishment order.
Deakin and Spencer (2003:130) also state that the statistics in relation to women and crime “do not indicate any seismic shift in women’s offending behaviour; women are not committing crimes of any greater seriousness now than they were a decade ago”.They also state that there should be an “immediate move to reduce the numbers of women in prison and sent to prison” (2003:133). McIvor states that to do this there needs to be diverse and imaginative ways of punishing women in the community, for example, supervision on a voluntary basis and forms of probation intervention that take account of women’s pathways into crime and their needs. These measures could lead to a reduction in the prison population, and help to prevent the devastating effects that incarceration can have upon women’s lives.Several surveys have been carried out into the public opinion in relation to different forms of sentencing. If a form of sanction proves unpopular with the public, then it may have a knock on effect on how many votes a government party receives in a general election.
Therefore, community punishments need to be popular with the public for them to be successful at cutting the prison population. Hough and Roberts (1998) looked at attitudes to punishments which were attained from the 1996 British Crime Survey.This survey looks at a nationally representative sample of 16,348 respondents, and asks several questions about crime, including their knowledge of crime and sentencing and their views on the best ways to tackle crime. The findings state that respondents’ attitudes towards greater use of imprisonment were at least “ambivalent” (Hough and Roberts 1998: ix), and there was a wide spread belief that imprisonment can lead to further crime as well as prevent it. It was also found that a greater number of people expressed a preference for ougher community penalties to be utilised to tackle prison overcrowding, with 59 per cent stating this as their preferred method. This is compared to only 18 per cent of respondents who states that building new prisons is the best method to tackle prison overcrowding.
Therefore it can be seen that a nationally representative sample of people believe that community penalties should be the preferred method to tackle prison overcrowding, which may in turn mean that they are more inclined to vote for a political party who states this as one of its policies.Also, people are inclined to think that crime levels are on the increase when they are actually falling. For example, Mattinson and Mirlees-Black (2000) state that findings from the 1998 British Crime Survey show that although more people were aware in1998 than in 1996 that recorded crime was falling, 59% still thought that it had increased in the previous two years. This could therefore indicate that the general public need educating on the trends in crime, and this may make them more inclined to be less punitive, and want to incarcerate less offenders, which would therefore lead to a decrease in the prison population.
Dispelling myths about public opinion might be most crucial in the area of non custodial sentences (Bottoms et al 2004), and as Flanagan (1996) suggests, ‘perceived public opinion’ is the ‘greatest obstacle’ to the success of community based penalties. And Bottoms et al state that “sentencers are reluctant to utilise community penalties, regardless of their levels of effectiveness, if they assume that the public would disapprove of these options” (2004:84).Therefore, if community sentences are to be a successful measure to cut the prison population, sentencers should be informed that the public do not actually object to the use of community penalties, and in a lot of cases they actually prefer the idea to prison. Public opinion research shows rather conclusively that although the general public does largely support harsh punishment for serious offenders, but we are also very much in favour of rehabilitation (McCorkle 1993).
Therefore it can be argued that rehabilitative programmes should play a large part in community penalties. Along with punishing the offender for the crime they have committed, rehabilitative programmes could also play a part in preventing them from reoffending. This would therefore cut the prison population in the future, leading to less overcrowding.
Figures have shown that there is a high percentage of offenders who are released from prison who go on to reoffend (Cunliffe and Shepherd 2007).If these offenders participated in a rehabilitative programme, such as a drug treatment and testing order or an anger management course, then this may prevent the offender from committing further offences. In the last decade, the use of both prison and community sentencing to punish offenders has increased. Figures produced by the Howard League for Penal Reform have shown that there has been a 32 per cent increase in the use of custodial sentences between 1996 to 2002, with an increase from 85,000 to 112, 000.
The use of community sentences has also increased, with a 41 percent increase from 133,000 to 186,000 during the same period. The fact that there has been a greater increase in community sentences is an encouraging trend within our society, however, community punishments need to be utilised more within society to ensure that the prison population is kept to a minimum. One example of a community punishment which tries to adapt the offender’s criminogenic behaviour as well as punish them is the Enhanced Community Punishment scheme, which was launched in October 2003.This scheme a greater focus on the rehabilitation of the offender, without overlooking the punishment part of the work carried out for local good causes. Enhanced community punishment addresses several factors of an offender’s behaviour.
This includes trying to adapt their behaviour so that their attitudes and behaviour becomes positive, along with challenging any anti social ones, which include offending. The punishment also addresses poor thinking skills, and tries to teach the offender how to look at alternative ways of problem solving, and how to look at situations from other people’s perspectives.The programme also aims teach valuable employment skills, such as vocational and key skills, which are essential for employability and further training. Rex et al (2004) examined what is promising in community service, with a focus on the implementation of seven Pathfinder projects. They found that projects which focused on skills accreditation and pro-social modelling such as the enhanced community punishment scheme were promising, however, projects which focused on using community punishment work to tackle offending related needs did not appear to produce positive outcomes overall.
Therefore this is one aspect which needs to be taken account of when designing effective community programmes. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 brought into force from April 2005 the “generic community sentence”, also known as the community order. This allows judges and magistrates to combine a variety of orders and tailor the sentence to fit the needs of the offender. Many of these will have an educational or skills base element to them.A single new generic community punishment order would replace existing authority for probationary sentences, community service, drug treatment and testing orders and combination orders. Conclusion It can be seen that if community punishments were utilised more within the criminal justice system, then a reduction in the prison population occur.
However, care needs to be taken when giving out community punishments, as they are not suitable for all offenders, principally dangerous and violent offenders.Punishment also needs to be tailored to the individual offender, as one community punishment will not work for all. Worrall (2000) has argued that placing a woman on probation at an early stage in her criminal career tended to lead a women into imprisonment, rather than be a diversion away from it. This therefore means that women sentenced to community penalties may have found themselves escalated up the sentencing tariff and facing prison on reconviction (McIvor 1999).Therefore it can be seen that community penalties may not always help to reduce the prison population, and this is an issue which needs to be addressed if there is to be a decrease in the prison population.
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