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:

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:

It is only by prioritising rehabilitation that we can reduce reoffending and, in turn, the numbers of future victims of crime.

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.

View full Data Tables here.


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

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