[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 January 2007, 16:28 GMT
Prison overcrowding: Reaction
Judges in England and Wales are being urged to consider non-custodial sentences for all but the most dangerous criminals because of prison overcrowding, provoking strong responses from several organisations.

PRISON OFFICERS ASSOCIATION

The association, which represents the interests of rank-and-file prison officers and guards, is calling for more investment in prisons.

Its chairman, Colin Moses, said: "First and foremost [John Reid] should look at an early release programme and he also should look at real investment.

"We've seen year on year cuts since the Labour party came to power in investment in prisons.

"We have a chronic situation as regards staffing.

"We have a situation where we're opening a wing that's been condemned at Norwich and we believe we need immediate action.

"We also need to look at what we're going to do in the future because we are going to be in the same situation again in twelve months."

PRISON REFORM TRUST

The trust is critical of the government's prisons policies and believes jail is not the place for petty offenders.

"Ministers are right to call at last for jails to be used more sparingly," said the trust's director, Juliet Lyon.

"Not because they are full to bursting, but because the government's own scaremongering tactics have blocked prison beds with petty offenders, vulnerable women and children, addicts and the mentally ill.

"The government has been guilty of criminal negligence to allow prisons to get into such a terrible mess without intervening earlier in a planned way."

NACRO

Crime reduction charity Nacro believes the home secretary is right to ask the courts to help him out.

"It is [the courts'] profligate over-use of prison which caused the crisis in the first place," said Nacro boss Paul Cavadino.

"Courts should only be imprisoning dangerous or persistent offenders in any event, not just at times of extreme overcrowding.

"Prisons cannot do an effective job of rehabilitating offenders if they are constantly lurching from one overcrowding crisis to another.

"A policy of restraint in the use of jail sentences should not just be used as a short-term stop-gap.

"If the government wants a stable and effective penal system, it must make permanent measures to reduce the use of prison a centrepiece of criminal justice policy."

MAGISTRATES' ASSOCIATION

The association says its members will not let government interfere in the sentencing process.

"We have clear guidelines as to how to sentence and we make the decisions based entirely on the facts of the case and the circumstances of the offender," said John Thornhill, deputy chairman of the association.

"Such issues as overcrowding of prisons don't have any place in our decision as to what sentence we impose or whether we remand an offender into custody.

"The statement that was issued by the three criminal justice ministers yesterday ... just outlined what the sentencing policy was as enshrined in statute - and that's the policy that we follow.

"We also have sentencing guidelines which allow us to consider the seriousness of the offence and the culpability and harm in any particular offence.

"We follow these very carefully so that we can ensure consistency of sentencing across the country."

ASSOCIATION OF CHIEF POLICE OFFICERS

Acpo says the duty of police to protect the public is not compromised by the Home Office's request to house prisoners.

"In some respects the current situation shows that the police service is, despite views to the contrary, doing its job to protect communities," said Acpo president Ken Jones.

"The number of people in prison has risen steadily over the past few years.

"The largest increases are those imprisoned for violence, robbery and sexual offences. These are the people who communities want to see taken off the streets.

"There have been falls in those imprisoned, and remanded, for less serious crimes, for example motoring offences.

"Evidence suggests that it is the more serious offenders that we are bringing to justice who are driving up the prison population numbers."


RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific