Leading experts debate the future of criminal justice

Issue date: 03 December 2014


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The University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) in partnership with the Prison Reform Trust will today (Wednesday 3 December 2014) host a one day conference on the future direction of the criminal justice system at the Watershed in Bristol.

The conference follows the recent launch of a report by the Prison Reform Trust which highlights the impact of drastic staff and budget cuts on safety, decency and rehabilitation behind bars.

Speakers at the event include Rod Morgan, Emeritus Professor at the University of Bristol and a former Chair of the Youth Justice Board; Janet Crowe, Deputy Director of the Prison Reform Trust; Corinne Funnell, UWE Bristol; Kieran McCartan, UWE Bristol; and Robin Wilson, McMaster University, Ontario Canada.

The conference is part of UWE Bristol's annual Social Science in the City programme and the Prison Reform Trust's Talking Justice programme. The collaboration aims to stimulate debate on the future direction of criminal justice. Participants include those working across the full range of agencies and organisations involved with people in the criminal justice system.

On 28 November 2014 the prison population in England and Wales was 84,668. Between 2002 and 2014, the prison population grew by 14,291 (20%). Prison has a poor record at reducing reoffending with 45.2% of adults reconvicted within one year of release. For those serving sentences of less than 12 months this increases to 57.5%.

Ministry of Justice statistics reveal that court ordered community sentences are more effective by nearly 7 percentage points at reducing one-year proven reoffending rates than custodial sentences of less than 12 months for similar offenders.

The autumn 2014 edition of the Prison Reform Trust's Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile shows that over the past three years the National Offender Management Service has had to deliver £749m savings and is expected to make a further £149m cuts in 2014/2015. Between 31 March 2010 and 30 June 2014 the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff employed in the public prison estate fell by 28%, a reduction of 12,530 staff.

A drive to close small community and open prisons, build larger jails and add additional capacity to existing establishments has led to the growth of “Titan prisons by stealth”. Twenty nine prisons now hold over 1,000 men each, compared with only 12 prisons a decade ago.

The past year has seen a sharp drop in individual prison performance. The proportion of prisons whose performance, as rated by the National Offender Management Service, is “of concern” or “of serious concern” has risen from 13% in 2012-13, to 23% in 2013-14.

Levels of violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths are rising in the adult male estate and people in prison are enduring worsening conditions, less time out of cell, reduced contact with staff and fewer opportunities for rehabilitation.

The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has reported a 64% increase in self-inflicted deaths in 2013–14. Commenting in his Annual Report he said “this reflects a rising toll of despair among some prisoners.”

Commenting, Janet Crowe, Deputy Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Facts and figures provide a better basis than tough political rhetoric or media scaremongering for policy and practice change. The Prison Reform Trust is delighted to be working with University of the West of England to stimulate debate on the state of our prison system and the scope for community solutions to crime.”

Dr Nick de Viggiani, Public Health Expert at UWE Bristol, says, “The health of offenders and of victims of crime is a significant public health concern, given that most crime and offending involves people who experience the greater share of health inequality, social disadvantage and social exclusion. A public health perspective acknowledges that crime and offending behaviour are symptoms rather than causes; they represent consequences or risks associated with host environments where there is also likely to be greater prevalence of poor health and adverse social outcomes. Serious measures to tackle offending must include strategies to meet health and social needs within communities experiencing comparatively higher levels of deprivation and social exclusion. This approach may enable us begin to reverse the likelihood of future generations turning to crime in the first place and help us turn the corner in our efforts to reduce re-offending. Well-resourced community-based partnerships are essential in terms of helping to build resilient and empowered communities.”

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