Short prison sentencing

This project aims to identify the options, impacts and issues for impactful sentencing reform intended to reduce the use of short prison sentences.

There has been a lot of recent interest in this policy area. In 2019, Scotland extended its presumption against short prison sentences. In England and Wales, plans to restrict sentencers' access to short term imprisonment were mooted but failed to progress.  

The case for reform has been made on multiple grounds: proportionality, effectiveness at reducing reconvictions, morality, addressing underlying needs, as well as value for money considerations, and deteriorating conditions in the prison estate.

Despite the attention this issue has received, there are unresolved issues about how to achieve reductions in the use of short prison sentences through sentencing reform in practice. The Centre published a briefing in summer 2019 which found the key proposals of presumptions and bars are neither straightforward to impose nor is their impact certain.

Whilst in England and Wales reform is no longer imminent, the pressures in the prison system which prompted political interest in short sentence reform have not gone away. They are only likely to increase.

We want to use this window of opportunity to:

  • Clarify the issues this challenging area of reform raises in dialogue with others.
  • Set out fresh thinking about how to maximise the opportunity for diversionary sentencing reform going forward.

We will be producing a policy guide to this reform area and working with others to think through the implications for future policy interventions in this area.

Get involved

If you would like to be involved in helping us think through this work, please contact Helen Mills.

We are grateful to the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales for funding this work.