'Stopping short?' Sentencing reform and short prison sentences

Helen Mills
Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Our latest report, by Helen Mills – 'Stopping short?' Sentencing reform and short prison sentences – examines the future of sentencing reform and how abolishing short terms of imprisonment might impact on prison numbers.

‘Abolish’ is not standard terminology for justice secretaries talking about their intentions for sentencing reform. The notion put forward in February this year, of taking a firmly established element of sentencing practice, questioning its value, and saying we should do something else instead, seems a bold one. Not since Kenneth Clarke’s tenure in 2010, has there been a justice secretary who presented a reform agenda in sentencing intended to reduce the numbers imprisoned. 

Six months on, the future of sentencing reform as a government agenda is, at best, uncertain. Will this policy agenda survive the significant personnel changes of a new Prime Minster and a new ministerial team at the Ministry of Justice? Will it rise above or fly under the radar of our distracted political times?

Whatever the answer to these questions and whatever the future of this policy agenda, the issues that have been highlighted over recent months, in relation to sentencing reform and restricting the use of prison, remain highly significant to those concerned with criminal justice reform. It is these matters this briefing focuses on. Three main elements are covered here.

  1. The case for reducing short prison sentences, as it has been presented by various government figures in the period January to July 2019.
  2. The options for sentencing reform with the intention to reduce short prison sentences and the issues that arise from their implementation. In particular, considering the evidence from Scotland about the impact of their presumption against short prison sentences.
  3. Assessing the potential impact various sentencing reform scenarios would have, should they be implemented, on their intended target of prison receptions and the prison population.