At Crest Advisory, we want to create safer communities by helping criminal justice organisations to think, speak and act more clearly. We believe in challenging outdated thinking, providing credible advice, acting in a collaborative way and being courageous when looking for solutions.
Below is a summary of our submission to the Justice Select Committee. We have undertaken an analysis of the historical determinants of the rise in the prison population examining who is in custody, future projections and the main offences they are in custody for. This analysis reveals some important insights about the make-up of the prison population. Our submission draws on findings from this analysis and Crest’s wider work on policing and criminal justice
You can download a copy of our written submission here or alternatively read the conclusions of our evidence below.
The prison population has continued to rise despite reductions in the volume of people coming before the courts over the past 10 years. We assess that a principal cause of this has been sentence length inflation. However, this has not occurred evenly across the various offence categories and has been focused on specific offence types, specifically sexual offences, robbery and criminal damage which includes arson; there does not appear to have been a general ‘trickle-down’ effect on other offence types inducing up-tariffing;
Violence offences – comprise the largest category of those who are in custody; whilst sentence inflation for this group is negligible overall, there is a distributional effect, with inflation having occurred for more serious offences and deflation at the less serious end;
The mix of offenders receiving custodial sentences is now more “concentrated”, comprising offenders with a longer history of repeat offending. This is particularly the case for those receiving short sentences (less than 12 months). It may be due to a more focused approach by the police on higher harm or repeat crime, against the background of pressure on police budgets and changing crime patterns.
The proportion of first time offenders receiving a custodial sentence has remained broadly steady over the past decade;
The remand population is comprised of offenders facing charges for violent, drugs and theft offences;
The Criminal Justice System as a whole is experiencing a change in those within it, with a move towards more serious offences and more prolific offenders. This is reflected in the current composition of the prison population serving longer sentences for serious offences and more extensive recidivist backgrounds. Whilst it does appear that custody is being used more proportionately, the system is also continuing to send a large proportion of people to prison for short periods, a majority of whom will reoffend within two years of being released. This is a waste of resources which should be spent looking at alternatives to both custody and to boosting non-custodial sentencing that also addresses non-criminogenic needs such as mental health, substance misuse services and housing.
You can download a copy of our written submission, published by the Committee in February, here or alternatively read the conclusions of our evidence below.
Read our submission:
Crest’s recommendations include:
- an urgent review of alternatives to custody for short sentenced offenders;
- devolution of custody budgets attached to short sentenced offenders to elected Mayors and PCCs, creating a financial incentive for local areas to fund better diversion and alternatives to custody;
- greater investment in early intervention to stem the flow of those vulnerable to criminal behaviour and future offending. This should include a more systematic approach to working with those at risk such as the children of offenders where the evidence shows them to be unequivocally at risk. Whole family approaches, including Troubled Families and related programmes provide local infrastructure and joint working arrangements that could facilitate targeting of services on this group;
- a review of the role of the probation and the police in managing the most prolific offenders;
- investing in the staffing, skills and infrastructure necessary for a changing prison population. This should include an assessment of the health and social care needs of a larger group of older prisoners, how to safely accommodate more violent offenders, along with reforms to ensure better continuity between provision in custody and the community.
Crest’s Select Committee consultants:
Harvey Redgrave is Managing Director at Crest Advisory. Prior to joining Crest, Harvey spent four years advising on home affairs policy for the Labour Party and was a deputy director at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit.
Head of Communications and Campaigns
Jo Coles brings expertise in the political and voluntary sector delivering politically-sensitive campaigns and communications.
Head of Strategy and Insight
Sarah is a highly experienced policy professional, with 20 years of experience working in Whitehall, arms-length bodies and the voluntary sector.
Savas has a wealth of experience in government and beyond. He worked as a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health and Home Office, leading reforms in the provision of prison health services.