Short prison sentences 'excessive', says survey

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Most prison governors surveyed said short sentences did not rehabilitate offenders

Short prison sentences do not reduce crime and are used excessively, a survey of prison governors suggests.

The Howard League for Penal Reform released responses from an ongoing research project into short sentences.

Of 223 current and retired Prison Governors Association members surveyed, only 6% agreed that short sentences rehabilitated offenders.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke will address the governors association annual conference later.

He has called for alternatives to jail to be developed.

'Excessive' use

The survey also found that 59% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed when asked if short prison sentences reduced crime, including by deterrence.

Three-quarters of the respondents said they considered the current use of short prison sentences between zero and six months to be "excessive".

Only a quarter responded that they felt that drug and alcohol problems could be "somewhat or very satisfactorily" addressed during a short prison sentence

PGA president said Eoin McLennan-Murray said: "It is mainly low-risk offenders with short prison sentences who could be more effectively dealt with by the probation service, allowing prisons to concentrate on rehabilitating serious and serial offenders.

"At this time, when spending cuts across the criminal justice system is necessary, money should be targeted effectively. Providing funds to build additional prisons is not the way forward," he said.

Researcher Julie Trebilcock of Imperial College London said the survey showed new and important evidence about the views of prison professionals.

"The majority expressed concern that a short sentence rarely provides enough time to address the needs of offenders while they are in custody.

"The data also reveals that prison governors have some real concerns about the effectiveness of these sentences in terms of both rehabilitation and reducing reoffending."

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