Courts are sending offenders to jail without carrying out reports on any learning disabilities or mental health issues they may have, charities have warned.
A coalition of charities have today (June 24) released a report, entitled ‘In 10 Years Time’, calling for the government to strengthen laws making it necessary to carry out pre-sentence reports before sending people to prison.
The probation service must conduct a pre-sentence report before an offender is sentenced, assessing how dangerous they are but also considering any special needs they may have, to assist the courts in deciding how best to deal with them.
Probation inspectors were “shocked” to find that the number of these reports completed before sentencing fell by almost a third (29%) between July and September 2013 and July to September 2018.
Three quarters of people given jail terms of less than six months had no report on their needs conducted prior to being sentenced.
This news comes on the same day that the Prison Reform Trust released a study revealing that England and Wales send more people to prison than anywhere else in western Europe.
Prison can make things worse for people with mental ill-health and addiction. It is important to effectively rehabilitate, not just punish.
Allie, Revolving Doors Agency lived experience member
In 10 Years Time was authored by charities the Revolving Doors Agency, Centre for Mental Health, the Prison Reform Trust, The Disabilities Trust and Transform Justice.
Christina Marriott, chief executive of the Revolving Doors Agency said: “The government must redouble its effort to ensure that people with mental ill-health and addictions are not sent to prison when alternatives are more effective.
“It is unacceptable that magistrates and judges routinely send people to prison without the information to make a fully informed decision.”
England and Wales Prison Population: Breaking Down The Data
Figures from the Council of Europe’s annual penal statistics, analysed by the Prison Reform Trust, reveal that more than 140,000 people were jailed in England and Wales in 2017.
That is 40,000 more than Germany, the next highest country on the list.
The Trust’s director Peter Dawson said: “These figures show the scale of the challenge that we face in breaking our addiction to imprisonment.
“Planned measures to limit the use of short sentences, and correcting failed reforms to probation are both steps in the right direction.
“But our shamefully high prison population rates won’t be solved by these alone — a public debate about how we punish the most serious crime is overdue.”
Great Britain has the highest prison population in western Europe, while Scotland imprisons the highest number of people per head at 150 people in prison per 100,000.
The Prison Reform Trust said these figures support the Justice Secretary David Gauke’s considerations of abolishing over-used short term prison sentences.
The rate of prison admissions, which accounts for the effects of differences in national populations, shows that England and Wales have a rate approximately three times that of Italy and Spain, and almost twice as high as Germany, with 238 prison admissions for every 100,000 people.
The Ministry of Justice predicts the prison population will rise further, as sentence lengths and custody rates continue to increase.
What Does The Government Say?
Image Credit: Flickr.
A Ministry Of Justice spokesperson said: “We know that short prison sentences are often ineffective and as the report notes we are already exploring options for robust community alternatives to rehabilitate prisoners, reduce crime and keep the public safe.
“To facilitate this we are comprehensively reforming our probation system to ensure offenders are monitored and conditions enforced, while directing them towards services that will help them turn their backs on crime for good.
“We are also delivering up to 10,000 new prison places and ensuring our staff can carry out their work safely by investing an extra £70 million, including £16 million to improve conditions for prisoners and staff and £7 million on new security measures.”
Featured Image Credit: Unsplash.