The spotlight is on prison sentencing, following new figures published by the Council of Europe showing that the UK has the highest prison population in the EU. There have already been moves to reduce short prison stays in Europe.
Populus research conducted on behalf of Revolving Doors Agency shows that people in England and Wales strongly back reducing the prison population and investing money in drug treatment programmes instead. This was true of voters across all three major parties.
The research was published alongside a briefing by the charity setting out the case for new presumption against short sentences of less than 6 months. The charity’s new campaign – called shortsighted – has found that reducing the use of short prison sentences for some people convicted of theft or drug offences has the support of the public.
Populus research shows that:
- 80% of people in England and Wales think that theft of daily essentials such as food, sanitary products and nappies does not warrant a prison sentence. This was true for voters across all the major parties.
- 74% of people in England and Wales think people with drug or alcohol addictions belong in treatment programmes instead of prison.
- A majority of voters said they were likely to vote for an MP candidate that supported reducing prison populations and using the savings to invest in drug treatment and mental health programmes (only 16% said they were unlikely to do so). Each of the major parties had more people likely to support this policy than unlikely to do so.
The research ties in with a trend emerging across Europe, in favour of rehabilitation over prison sentences.
Earlier this month, President Macron banned prison sentences of less than a month in France. Instead, shorter sentences will be mostly served at home with the use of electronic tagging. Drug offences will become punishable by fines, rather than prison time. The Scottish government has also announced it would extend the presumption against prison sentences of less than 3 months up to 12 months.
The UK’s new Justice Secretary David Gauke MP, used his first major speech to address problems such as violence and drugs in prisons, and said he would like to see a reduction in prison numbers, stating:
Our research shows that those surveyed in England and Wales support the notion that those with drug or alcohol addictions belong in treatment programmes, rather than prison.
Populus interviewed a nationally representative sample of 944 UK adults in England and Wales aged 18+ between 12 and 13 February 2018. Data were weighted in order to be demographically representative of adults in the UK. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at www.populus.co.uk
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