WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
July 18 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Sentences delayed by prison capacity crisis

Sentences delayed by prison capacity crisis

HMP/YOI Portland. Pic: Andrew Aitchison

Prisons are now so overcrowded that judges have been instructed to delay the sentencing of of newly convicted offenders who are on bail.

Speaking to the Times, a senior crown court judge stated that from Monday, judges have been ‘ordered/strongly encouraged’ not to send a defendant who has been on bail to prison so as not to add to the prison population. The judge explained: ‘We have been told that this is a ‘short-term measure’, but nobody knows what that means.’

This instruction reportedly came from Lord Justice Edis, the senior presiding Judge in England & Wales, in a private call with senior crown court judges. Earlier this year, Edis suggested in a Court of Appeal case that judges and magistrates should consider giving offenders suspended sentences where possible to reduce the pressure on prisons.

A government source reportedly told the Guardian that this would only apply to those offenders who have been on bail throughout the court process and therefore who have already been assessed as lower risk. They will now remain on bail until their sentencing hearing, where it is deemed safe to do so.

There is an acute shortage of prison spaces in the UK. The Telegraph reports that as of Wednesday only 124 places were left as the prison population passed 88,100, which is the highest number since records began more than 120 years ago. Attempts to build new prisons have been delayed by nearly a decade. Meanwhile, the government is considering renting out prison spaces abroad.

Sir Bob Neill is currently chairing a Justice Select Committee into the future prison population and estate capacity. He has criticised the government’s approach to prisons, saying it  ‘raises questions about the lack of joined up thinking’ on prison numbers: ‘there must be a rethink so that the Home Office stops calling for longer sentences and the Ministry of Justice anticipates these problems. The government cannot keep trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot.’

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