There has been a dramatic increase in the length of custodial sentences for most serious crimes over the last two decades despite a fall in public concern with the minimum term for murder rising from 12.5 years in 2003 to 20 years in 2020. According to a new report by the Prison Reform Trust, there are almost 11,000 people in prison in England and Wales who will spend 10 years or more behind bars including more than two-thirds (67%) serving indeterminate sentences who do not know when or if they will be released.
In 2019, the latest year for which data are available, 124 people were sentenced to custody for 20 years or more (excluding life sentences) and are likely to spend 10 years or more held in custody—four times the number of just a decade ago. There are now over 3,500 people in prison serving one of these long determinate sentences.
Dr David Maguire, the group’s director, said that the impact on the justice system would be ‘significant and long-term’ and its challenges are expected to ‘shape the landscape for years to come’. According to the group, public concern about violent crime has actually fallen over the last two decades. The proportion of the public with ‘a high level of worry’ about violent crime declining from 13% to 8%. A higher proportion of people reported feeling ‘very/fairly safe’ walking alone after dark, rising from 73% to 78% overall and from 61% to 69% for women.
According to the PRT, the changing landscape of prisons will feature an even greater number of older male prisoners who already make up a significant majority of longer-term prisoners. Currently, 99% of those serving long determinate sentences are male, with only 11 women serving such sentences. The finding also indicated an increase in the number of long-term prisoners under the age of 25, of which there are current over 1400. However, most long-term prisoners are older men aged between 40 and 59. The report also confirmed a greater number of BAME male prisoners serving long determinate sentences than in the sentenced prison population overall.
Earlier in the week, Home Secretary Priti Patel outlined her plans to introduce tougher sentences for violent crimes whilst emphasising her support for the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, again, which would introduce tougher sentences for child murders which will be based on the sentencing system for adults.