POPULAR IMAGES OF CRIME and punishment have been undermined by evidence that many offenders regard community service as harder than a short term in prison.
Campaigners have cited the new research in response to those who regard community punishment as a soft option. The research appears in a report ‘No Winners’, published jointly by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Governors’ Association. Researchers interviewed people serving sentences of less than one year as well as prison staff.
They found a number of ‘revolving door’ prisoners who regarded a return to jail as inevitable. The Howard League suggests that this results from boredom and disillusionment in prison, reducing the ability of offenders to take responsibility and turn their lives around.
Around two-thirds of those interviewed said they would prefer to complete a short time in jail than undergo a community sentence. Some suggested it was easier to serve a brief spell and ‘get it over with’ than engage in a lengthy sentence in the community.
‘Spending all day lounging on a cell bunk, particularly for those on short sentences, is the real “soft” option,’ said Howard League director, Frances Crook.
The report describes frustration amongst prisoners who hoped to attend courses in prison that are designed to reduce reoffending. The courses, which cover topics such as anger management and decision-making skills, often turn out to be unavailable.
Eoin McLennan Murray, president of the Prison Governors’ Association, said the research confirmed what governors have long known. He said there should be a dramatic reduction in the use of short sentences.
The Howard League went further, reiterating their call for an end to prison terms shorter than a year and their replacement with ‘robust, effective community sentences’. They added that community sentences need reform before this can happen.
The report was published amidst controversy over plans by justice secretary Kenneth Clarke to reduce the use of short sentences. Ministers were alleged to be in disagreement over his suggestion that an offender who pleads guilty early could have a prison sentence reduced by up to half.
The Howard League suggest that this discussion is still neglecting key issues. A League spokesperson told the Friend that a guilty plea can already reduce a sentence by a third. ‘Debating between a third and a half can be a bit of a technical issue,’ she said.
Petition to support children of prisoners
FRIENDS ARE BEING ASKED to show their support for children of prisoners across Europe.
An online petition to the European Parliament has been created by children of prisoners NGO Eurochips, as part of European Prisoners' Children Week. The petition calls for better conditions for children who visit imprisoned parents and for national monitoring groups to protect their interests.
‘The rights and needs of these children are still massively under-recognised,’ said Oliver Robertson of the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO). ‘We're glad that governments and international organisations are starting to take notice, but initiatives like this petition are still needed.’
He mentioned two upcoming events at the UN as examples of the growing awareness: a Day of General Discussion at the Committee on the Rights of the Child, on Friday 30 September this year, and a part of a discussion next March in the UN’s Human Rights Council.
To sign the petition, go to http://tinyurl.com/2011CoP (using upper or lower case as indicated)
the Friend, 17 June 2011