Downsizing prison the reform challenge of this generation

Date: 
Thursday, 22 December, 2016

The Centre's Director, Richard Garside, today said that a major prison downsizing programme was the reform challenge of this generation.

His comments came in reaction to a call by senior politicians for the prison population to be halved. The call was made by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, the former Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, and the former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, in the letter published today in The Times newspaper.

The rising prison population, they write, 'has gone well beyond what is safe or sustainable. To restore order, security and purpose to our jails, ministers should now make it their policy to reduce prison numbers'.

They call for the prison population to be reduced, over time, to around 45,000, returning it 'to the levels it was under Margaret Thatcher'. Failure to do so, they add, will prolong the prisons crisis and 'will do untold damage to wider society'.

Speaking today, Richard Garside said:

I am delighted that three such experienced politicians have added their voices to the growing calls for a long-term plan to downsize our prisons. Earlier this month I made a similar call in a letter to The Times, proposing a long-term plan to reduce the prison population.

Last year, the prison population stood at around 85,000 people. In 1985, when Mrs Thatcher was in Downing Street, there were around 46,000 people in prison. The rate of crime and lawbreaking was not notably different last year than it was 30 years ago. What has changed is the way we deal with suspected and convicted lawbreakers.

Thousands of our fellow citizens are unnecessarily imprisoned every year. Developing a long-term plan to downsize our prison estate is the prison reform challenge of this generation.

It is time for the government to start taking capacity out of the system, rather than continuing on the profligate course of building a new generation of prisons.