In this essay I am going to discuss the rate of imprisonment in England and Wales compared to the rest of Europe and the effect sentencing practices in England and Wales have on it.
"Though international comparisons are fraught with difficulty (pease1994), England and Wales rely on the use of imprisonment to an extent greater than practically all other countries on western Europe. In 2005 141 persons were incarcerated in 100,000 population in England and Wales, compared to 97 in Germany and Italy, 88 in France, 81 in Sweden, and 65 in Norway" (ICP January 2006 www.prisonstudies.org) (Cited in Morgan 2007:1104).
There was significant statutory change in the late 1970s even thought there was little legislation changes between 1973 and 1981 there was nevertheless considerable shift in sentencing practices thus in the mid 70s the use of immediate or suspend imprisonment was at its lowest, fines were at there highest, from that point onwards there has been a role reversal and imprisonment is rapidly increasing.
In the 1990s one of the largest prison riots happened at Strange ways prison, this was due to the overcrowding of the prison, the prison was supposed to hold nine hundred and seventy on April the first 1990 the prison held one thousand six hundred and forty seven, most off the prisoners in strange ways at the time were held on remand, so hadn't even been charged yet. (Newburn 2007)
'One of government's responses to the growing problem of prison overcrowding in recent years has been the development of administrative mechanisms for securing the early release of prisoners' (Cavadino 1992:142)
Due to being operated dependently of courts sentencing procedures such as parole could act as a safety valve if prison population threatened to overwhelm the prison system (Cavadino1992)
Disadvantage of the release key is that procedures have to be constantly adjusted. (Cavadino 1992)
Until recently consequentialist approaches to sentencing which allowed for aims such as rehabilitation and reform have been favoured over retributive. however as doubt grew over the efficiency of rehabilitative programmes and concerns grew over the unfairness of indeterminate sentencing a interest has developed in a particular form of retributive thinking know as 'just deserts or desert theory. Desert theory is based on the idea that punishment ought to be proportionate to the crime. (Newburn 2007)
The modern prison fulfils a number off publicly specified roles deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, punishment and reform. One or more of these roles may take precedence over the others. For example during the 1950s and 1960s rehabilitation at least in theory was emphasised so the idea of prison was that it could change the behaviour of the offender through professional and policy interventions. (Muncie 2002).
Cynicism towards rehabilitation was intensified in May 1979 with the election of neo-conservative Margret Thatcher. Thatcher's election challenged the social demographic consensus that had developed since 1945 and off which discourse rehabilitation was firmly situated, instead Thatcher's neo- conservatism was built on a doctrine of free-market economics and constructing social and criminal justice policy's based on punishment and individual responsibility and respect for authority. Prison was found to be expencive and ineffective so the home office began a policy which by focusing on the punitive aspects of community based punishment, would reduce reliance on prison.
'crime is now a staple of political discourse and of it electoral politics' (Newburn 556:2007).
An attack on the rehabilitative sentencing came from both sides of the political spectrum. There were concerns about the inequalities and excesses of in determinate sentences from the left sided liberals and criticism from the other side off the political spectrum of rehabilitative sentencing for its apparent ineffectiveness. (Newburn 2007)
Commentators from the 'new right' called for tougher incapacitate sentencing, causing the emergence of mandatory sentences and other exemplary measures such as the three strike rule especially tough on re-offenders. (Newburn 2007)
Against this background 'new retributivism emerged, also known as back to justice movement it grew in popularity from the mid 1970s. This gave the idea that punishment should be linked to the nature of the crime that had been committed it should be proportionate. (Newburn 2007)
Although there is some problem with this idea as desert theorists assume the offender is rational, this may not be true in many cases such as offenders addicted to drugs or offenders with mental illnesses.
In England and Wales the desert theory influenced the criminal justice act 1991. The criminal justice act 1991 was formed from the white paper report, it lay down a set of general guidelines for sentencing. The criminal justice act 1991 also made community sentences distinctive penalty's in there own right rather then them being an alternative to custodial sentences as they had been in the past. The act also introduced the 'combination order' which allowed probation and community service to be a combined punishment.
The criminal justice act 1991 was thought to be a pragmatic response to prison overcrowding, stating that a custodial sentence should only be given if the crime could not warrant any other option.
However there was swift governmental retreat from the 1991 act due to thr arrival of Kenneth Baker as home secretary and the reintroduction of penal populism by campaigns against 'bail bandits', the appointment of Kenneth baker as home secretary signalled a radical change in the criminal justice policy. This process continued with his successor Michael Howard, this may have been due to the public's heightened worries about crime due to the Jamie Bulger case.
At the 1993 conservative party conference Michael Howards criminal justice policy was outlined, this policy was recognised to lead to an increase in use of custodial sentences, Michael Howard declared that 'prison works'. This was taken into use in the Criminal Justice Act 1993, from early 1993 onwards sentencing trends began to change, there was a very large increase in the prison population this is partly to do with the increase of prisoners on remand. The use of probation orders and community orders rose. Howards 'emergency action to tackle the crime wave' was announced during the 1993 conservative party conference. This included a restriction on the right to silence, reducing the rate of cautioning and tightening bail provisions. These measured were included in some form in the criminal justice and public order bill. (Newburn 2007)
At the 1995 conservative party conference Michael Howard promoted three sets of changes based on US policy these were increased honesty in sentencing, mandatory minimum sentences and three sets of 'three strikes' mandatory sentences these were automatic life sentence for a second serious sexual or violent offence, a minimum of seven years imprisonment for a third offence of drug trafficking in class a drugs and a minimum of three years sentence for a third time domestic burglary. (Newburn 2997)
During the 1990s considerable attention was paid to the consistency of sentencing, in the labour party's manifesto 1997 they proposed to implement more consistence sentencing policy's in order to ensure stricter punishment for repeat offenders. Jack straw set up two reviews in order to get new ideas and possible distance himself from politically difficult ideas. These reviews are The Ault review of criminal courts and the Halladay report.
The outcome of both reports was the white paper report justice for all. The changes include getting rid of the double jeopardy rule. Increasing magistrates sentencing powers, creating intermitted custodial sentences (short blocks of prison sentence). 'custodial plus' (prison sentence as well as community sentence) and 'custodial minus' (suspended sentence).
The criminal justice act 2003 was based on many of the proposals brought forward by the Halladay report and Ault review.
In the past governments have made reducing or halting the increase of prison population the centre of penal policy however from the 1990s onwards this has stopped and the prison population have continued to increase. (Newburn 2007)
'Little official discontent has been expressed about the rising prison population, discussions about reducing the prison population, frequent in the 1980s, are rarely herd. The Halladay report (2001) contains no thrust in that direction, and responds to the government's concerns about persistent offenders' (Ashworth cited in Maguire 1077:2002)
The adversary principle is very important in English criminal justice, this means we search 'for the proof not the truth' (sanders cited in Maguire 1035:2002) the search for the truth is used in 'inquisitorial' systems (such as the French). By using 'due process' and 'crime control' models developed by packer. We can try to prioritise civil liberties and ensure the acquittal of the innocent such as in due process model, or we can use 'crime control' values and priorities the conviction of the guilty. (Sanders cited in Maguire 2002).
There are many different agencies in the criminal justice system, including the police, probation service, prison service and courts. All of these agency's interact and work together in order to reach the same goal which is justice. The police charge an offender with a crime, the courts convict them and sentence the offender to prison, probation, community sentence or fine.(there are many reasons why it may not work out like this).
According to the British Crime Survey, Many offenders don't get as far as court never mind punishment. This is due to the complex nature off all the agencies in the criminal justice system, and due process and some crimes aren't even reported to the police.
In conclusion to this essay we can see that the rate of imprisonment is affected by politics, history and public reactions. The tough on crime policy's used by both conservatives and labour have seen the prison rates rise although there have been new introductions such as the safety release valve and community sentences to take the strain off the prison service, over-crowding in prisons in England and Wales is still a problem. England and Wales high imprisonment rate compared to the rest of Europe I Have found is cultural and historical as well as political.