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Every year 30,000 people go to prison for sentences of less than six months. They represent half of everyone we send to prison.

The vast majority are in prison for non-violent offences, and most are sent to prison for theft or minor drug offences. These crimes are linked to underlying problems such as poverty, trauma, drug addiction, homelessness and poor mental health.

These prison sentences are short-sighted. They do not provide any meaningful rehabilitation. They do not not protect the public or make communities safer. A smarter justice system would invest in community sentences to reduce re-offending, get people mental health treatment,  substance misuse treatment, and help end rough sleeping. But over the years, confidence in and use of community sentences has declined - substantially and rapidly.

The Government should introduce a presumption against the use of short custodial sentences of less than six months. At the same time it needs to strengthen community sentences so that they command public confidence and are better able to deal effectively with some of the underlying causes of persistent offending.

Evidence briefings

Short sentences briefing

This briefing explains why we believe short prison sentences should be reduced in favour of a smarter approach. The public and the evidence are clear and in agreement that short prison sentences are short-sighted. They are ineffective at tackling petty crime, and we can do better.

Currently 30,000 people each year go to prison on sentences of less than six months – that is half of all people sent to prison. The majority of people serving sentences of less than six months are in prison for non-violent offences. Many of these are linked to underlying problems such as poverty, addiction, homelessness and poor mental health.

Evidence shows that short prison sentences are less effective at reducing reoffending than community sentences. The government should introduce a presumption against the use of short custodial sentences of less than six months.

Community sentences must also be strengthened so that they command public confidence. They need to deal effectively with some of the underlying causes of persistent, petty offending, including drug or alcohol misuse and mental health.

However, there is no value in continuing with the failed policy of short sentences while we wait. As a start, we want to see the least harmful and least serious theft or drug offences dealt with differently.

Short-sighted campaign timeline

In March 2018 we launched our campaign that showed short sentences are short-sighted. We asked the government to review this issue and to consider introducing a new presumption against the use of short custodial sentences of less than six months. Since then we have had real impact. The Government has committed to explore options to restrict the use of short custodial sentences.

Our supporters:

 

  • Rt Hon Dominic Grieve QC MP
  • Professor Lord Patel of Bradford OBE
  • His Honour Judge John Samuels QC
  • Baroness Jean Corston PC
  • The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek
  • Sarah Champion MP
  • Chris Evans MP
  • Kate Green MP
  • Ellie Reeves MP
  • Ruth Cadbury MP
  • Lord Ramsbotham GCB CBE
  • Hardyal Dhindsa, Police and Crime Commissioner for Derbyshire
  • David Munro, Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey
  • Howard League for Penal Reform
  • Transform Justice
  • Women in Prison
  • Centre for Justice Innovation
  • Russell Webster
  • Ashley Horsey, Chief Executive of Commonweal Housing
  • Anna Herrmann, Head of Education at Clean Break
  • Rob Allen, Co-Director of Justice and Prison
  • Worcester Diocesan Criminal Justice Affairs Group
  • Pact (Prison Advice and Care Trust)
  • Centre for Mental Health
  • Agenda
  • Mayday Trust
  • Clean Break
  • YSS
  • Back on Track Manchester
  • Centre for Criminal Appeals
  • Nelson Trust
  • Clinks
  • Nacro