Scrap pointless prison sentences

A former prison governor who has run HMP Saughton, HMP Peterhead and HMP Glenochil has come out and said that short prison sentences are pointless and a waste of money.

Professor Alec Spencer suggests that prison sentences of less than six months should be scrapped. He argues that very little can be done with these prisoners (who serve on average just 24.2 days) in terms of addressing the reasons behind their criminality.

Professor Spencer said, “If they have got addiction problems you can’t deal with those, or if they have got some need they can’t start addressing them in that very short period of time.”

He points out that the evidence demonstrates that short custodial sentences are ineffective. He said, “For long-term prisoners who are dangerous to the public it is absolutely the right place for them, but for very short sentences there is absolutely no point and it does not reduce crime.”

He suggests that alternative community sentences should be available where a person would normally be sentenced to six months or less. The money that would be saved from sending these people to prison (about £20m a year) can be re-invested into community programmes.

He rightly points out that those sent to prison, even for a very short time, often loose their jobs and accommodation meaning they are an even bigger burden to the state when they are released. This is one of the main causes of crime in my opinion. We know from research that deprivation and crime are intrinsically linked. What use is it to society to lock someone up possibly leading them to homeless and jobless –a situation in which criminal activity fosters? The answer is none.

I’ve blogged before on how deplorable our obsession with sending people to prison is. In many cases it is counter-productive and causes more problems further down the line. Rehabilitation in prisons doesn’t work because the idea is fundamentally flawed, it’s because our policies on sentencing and support for those released from prison are.

I fully support this call and given the SNP’s previous discussion on reducing the numbers we send to prison I really do think it is something that will happen (and probably much to many people’s disgust).