Building on sand: why expanding the prison estate is not the way to ‘secure the future’

Carol Hedderman

in Tackling prison overcrowding

Published by Policy Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9781847421104
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447303657 | DOI:
Building on sand: why expanding the prison estate is not the way to ‘secure the future’

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Over the last decade, the prison population has grown rapidly, and in the next decade, it is assumed that the demand for prison places in England and Wales will outstrip the number planned. This chapter discusses the role of prison in a utilitarian view. From this perspective, there are two solutions to the scenario in which demand exceeds supply: build faster or change the custodial sentences. Of the two options, the government chose the first option, as it seemed to avoid the two political elephant traps: being portrayed as soft on crime; and interfering with judicial independence. This approach has been the course of the government and the preceding Conservative administration since the increase in the prison population. It has been reassured by Lord Patrick Carter's report, which stated that it is feasible for the government to build a way out of the problem by confirming that the greater use of imprisonment has been associated with more offenders brought to justice and reduced conviction; and that this is what the public want. In the chapter it is argued that, contrary to Carter's report, the increased use of imprisonment did not stem from more offences being brought to justice; that prison reconviction rates escalated as the population increased; and that the public appetite for prison is more limited and more susceptible to reasonable argument. The chapter finally argues that the expanding prison estate will not satisfy demand, but rather will generate it.

Keywords: prison population; prison places; England; Wales; custodial sentences; judicial independence; Lord Patrick Carter; prison expansion

Chapter.  7505 words.  Illustrated.

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