What can prison population statistics tell us about Crime Control in the UK? Is Prison an effective strategy for controlling crime?
These are questions that should be of interest to any student studying the Crime and Deviance option within A-level sociology.
Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations
In England and Wales we lock up 40% more people than in France and almost twice as many people as they do in Germany, which are broadly comparable countries.
Yet there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime
- England and wales have seen a rising prison population and a rising then a rapidly falling crime rate
- Finland has seen a declining prison population and a rising and then a gradually declining crime rate.
- Canada has seen a broadly level prison population and yet a relatively stable crime rate.
Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences
Nearly 70% of the prison population are in for non-violent offences – which means that 30% are in for violent offences. In those prisons where the two populations are mixed, this must be awful for some of those non-violent offenders.
People are getting sentenced for longer
I’m not sure what’s underlying this rise in more serious offences …. the most obvious long-sentence crime of murder has decreased in recent years, so maybe this is for violent gang related and terrorist related crimes which involve in harm rather than death ? Something to research further!
Does Prison work?
In short, if controlling crime is what you hope to achieve, then no it doesn’t because nearly 50% of those sent to prison are recalled within 1 year of being released.
However, there are more reasons why you might want to lock people up other than just rehabilitating them and preventing future offending – there is an argument that they just deserve to be punished whether they reoffend or not.
How do community service orders and suspended sentences compare to prison?
it seems that both of these are more effective at preventing reoffending, but the difference isn’t that great:
- 63% of people who serve sentences of less than 12 months reoffend compared to
- 56% of those who receive community orders and compared to
- 54% of those who receive suspended sentences.
HOWEVER, this may be due to the fact that those avoiding jail have different circumstances and/ or different characters to those who do go to jail – they might just be the kinds of people less likely to reoffend already!
Overall these prison statistics suggest that while we like to lock people up in England and Wales, there is little evidence that doing so prevents crime.
Maybe we should be looking for cheaper and more effective solutions – such as early intervention (initially expensive but cheaper than several years in and out of jail), or public shaming for example?
This post is based on data taken from ‘Prison the facts, Summer 2019‘, published by the Prison Reform Trust.
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