Short sentences are shortsighted

Revolving Doors

An overwhelming majority of voters in England and Wales believe that people caught stealing should not be sent to prison, according to a new poll.   

The survey, commissioned by Revolving Doors Agency and undertaken by pollsters Populus, shows that the public strongly back reducing the prison population and investing the money in drug treatment programmes instead. This was true of voters across all three major parties. 

The poll is released alongside a briefing by the Revolving Doors Agency setting out the case for new presumption against short sentences of less than 6 months.  If courts did use such a sentence, they would have to say why. Revolving Doors Agency’s work shows that short sentences are less effective than community options. The charity’s new campaign – called shortsighted – has found that reducing the use of short prison sentences for some people convicted of theft or drug offences has the support of the public.

Our poll found that:

  • 80% of the public think that theft of daily essentials such as food, sanitary products and nappies does not warrant a prison sentence. This was true for voters across all the major parties. 
  • 74% of the public think people with drug or alcohol addictions belong in treatment programmes instead of prison. 
  • A majority of voters said they were likely to vote for an MP candidate that supported reducing prison populations and using the savings to invest in drug treatment and mental health programmes (only 16% said they were unlikely to do so). Each of the major parties had more people likely to support this policy than unlikely to do so.

Revolving Doors’ new campaign is launched within weeks of the announcement by French President that they will ban short sentences of less than 1 month (and take action to make many more sentences of less than 6 months served in the community); and shortly after the Scottish government announced it would extend its the presumption against prison sentences of less than 3 months up to 12 months. 

The findings come at a crucial time for criminal justice reform. New Justice Secretary, David Gauke MP, used his first major speech to address problems such as violence and drugs in prison, and said he would like to see a reduction in prison numbers.  Gauke also announced a new cross-government ministerial group to tackle reoffending.  Revolving Doors’ argue that this group should start by addressing the problem of ‘revolving door’ group where big gains could be made through a different approach – backed by the public.