Within the criminal justice system prison population throughout the United Kingdom has been on the increase leading to the introduction of reformed legislation along with diverse governmental approaches. I will analyse in depth issues linked to the expanding population along with changing dynamics of prison life, government and legislation will also coincide with these issues. When examining a particular topic the most fundamental way of tackling the area of study is answering the question ‘what is the purpose of prisons? The three main areas that arise to the surface are three legal functions which are custodial, coercive, and punitive. Though imprisonment was used in medieval times as a punishment it was generally for minor offences. Pugh (1970:1105) In England and Wales the incarceration rate is the highest in Western Europe with around 80,000 persons in prison in England and Wales 7000 in Scotland and 1,300 in Northern Ireland.
During the 1980s prison population peaked at around 50,000 between 1988-89 then declined to around 45,000 during 1990-93 it then rose drastically to 62,000 by the time of the 1997 General Election which saw the emergence of Labour and the Third way following a reactive turnaround by conservative party and statement delivered by then Home secretary that ‘prisons work’. Morgan & Liebling (2007:1101) The introduction of the Murder Act (1965) abolished the death penalty in the United Kingdom and replaced it with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.
This would further reinforce the concept of contributing to an increased strain on the prison population as more individuals will occupy prisons. My analysis on this topic is the abolishment of the death sentence will require additional funding directed into the prison service. At the end of 2005 33 of 142 prisons were crowded above the certified capacity by 30% or more. The taxpayer pays around ? 26,412 per prisoner per annum or ? 508 per week. prison service 2005a:103) this estimates at around 16% of the law and order budget when analysing the economic situation it can be argued not enough is being done as overcrowding is still an issue and if the Death Penalty was still legislation so much finance wouldn’t need too be the focus in prisons. Most recently due to the riots in the United Kingdom prison population has hit record figures indicating prison numbers are simply increasing. The prison population in England and Wales has hit an all-time high of 87,749 – 76 higher than the previous record set at the start of last month.
The number of prisoners being held rose by 176 in a week, taking it past the previous record of 87,673, set on October 2007. MSN News (2011) it is believed the peak will last until February next year when the prison population will be 1. 000 higher than it would have been without the riots. It has been estimated effects of the Riots will last until August 2013. When analysing the governments swift approach regarding the Riots throughout the United Kingdom it can be viewed as implementation of tough legislation was an example to society as the Prime minister stated “fight back is underway”.
The Government shown that a Draconian approach would be selected as they kept courts open overnight and 820 arrests resulted in 279 being charged. BBC news (2011) Although the riots caused almost a moral panic throughout Britain I feel the need to counteract the statement it was completely negative within society. The current coalition government had to reconsider strategy on public service cuts along with the riots increasing the job economy it also made the public aware of deviant and criminal behaviour that certain individuals participate in if they receive the opportunity.
When focusing on Government and legislation it can analysed that the prison service and criminal justice system is vital and can hugely be an influence upon party manifesto. During the thatcher era the conservative party embarked on the biggest prison building project since the Victorian times. In the 1990s harsher sentencing was implemented along with increased punishment. By 1995 the prison population reached 51,000 which could be due to the focus upon tougher sentencing.
The emergence of New Labour from the 1997 General election developed the “tough on crime” approach and Tony Blair announced “. It is time to mark the end of the 1960s consensus on law and order” (BBC News 2004) which further reinforces a political manoeuvre from previous policies. In June 2007 due to consistent problems from prison overcrowding Lord Carter was instructed by the Government to review and recommend options for aligning the supply and demand of prison places. The government specifically asked Lord Carter to look at potential benefits from larger prisons also on an economic level.
The result of Lord Carters report followed with the personal opinion which supported Labours prison expansion programme. In December 2007 the Government did announce they would build 10,500 new prison places on top of a 9,500 place expansion programme this could coincide along with statistics and suggest we are sending more people to prison. In January 2008 the prison population reached 84,920 while discussing the building of the first titan prison which will be built by December 2012 this indicates the Government prediction of expanding prison population.
When tackling the question from an opposite perspective it can be argued the reason for increased prison population is merely due to people being more easily charged. New Labour also focused on rehabilitation and increased schemes centring on electronically tagging and anti social behaviour. Criminals would be monitored regularly as a method of stopping them reoffend. As Young and Goold 1999 discusses the term ‘restorative cautioning’ which centres on young offenders who are receiving a fine or caution would need to be within a police station this was another strategy used to reduce crime statistics.
Young and Goold (1999:1035). My conclusion would be a balanced focus as statistics would indicate prison population is most simply increasing and has been over a period of time. Between 1988-89 the population of prisons estimate around 50,000 although from 1990-93 decreased by 5000 this obviously indicates a period that seen improvement several questions arise to the surface was it the leadership of John Mayor or maybe the economic situation possibly the political landscape and implementation of legislation.
A pivotal factor I believe was the (Murder Act 1965) which abolished the death penalty and instead replaced with a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment which greatly increased more prisons being occupied and crime statistics rising extensively. I believe if the death penalty still existed it would greatly benefit society as indicated the taxpayer pays around ? 26,412 per prisoner per annum it would also reduce crime statistics and prison population.
The recent riots are an example of the Government taking a draconian approach to crime as courts were kept open throughout the night and prison statistics rose to a record 87,749. Government is an extremely important contributing factor to having influence on prison statistics as both Conservative and Labour issued relevance of tough approaches too crime. New Labour realised along with tough criminal policy rehabilitation was important to prevent reoffenders but did this majorly have influence on the rising population? Lord Carters report put it into erspective the overcrowding of prisons was severe and this led to the massive expansion programme which should be implemented by December 2012. Prison sentences can vary but when analysing the concept if we send too many people to prison it seems sentences have increased and it is much easier to be charged. The Government is crucial in regards to prison numbers if legislation wasn’t reformed or implemented then it would cause anomie as many things can effect choice of policy such as political landscape or disasters which expect the government to act quickly but this might not be the most efficient decision.