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Replacing prison sentences of six months or less with community sentences would save taxpayers £50 million a year

Community-based alternatives to prison should be used to punish the majority of people convicted of minor offences, according to a new report published by IPPR. 

The research focussed on the London borough of Lewisham in order to assess the alternatives to prison. It found that these alternatives could cut crime, reduce reoffending and save the tax payer money.

The report argues for a national policy in which offenders currently sentenced to six months or less (for crimes excluding robbery, violent or sexual crimes) are not sent to prison, but serve tough community sentences instead.

Nationally, 58,497 people served prison sentences of six months or less in 2010. IPPR says that community sentences for this group would save £50 million pounds a year.

At any one time, approximately 5,300 offenders are in prison for six months or less, mainly convicted of theft, handling stolen goods, fraud and forgery. The total cost of imprisoning these offenders is more than £240m a year (or £182m if robbery, violent and sexual offences are excluded). Organising and supervising community sentences for these people would be considerably cheaper (around 20 per cent less) – and potentially more effective.

The report recommends that local authorities should be given much greater responsibility for the management of low level offenders and incentivised to keep them out of prison, but also out of trouble. It argues for a funding mechanism which would mean that councils were charged by the prison service each time one of their residents was sentenced to a term of less than 12 months. This would encourage councils to use devolved budgets to design effective schemes to reduce crime and reoffending. 

Nick Pearce, IPPR Director, said:

“Low level crime causes a lot of misery and must be taken seriously. But this report adds to the evidence that locking up people who commit these offences is expensive and ineffective. 

“The short term prison sentence doesn’t work as a form of deterrence, punishment or rehabilitation. Community sentences are a much better alternative – and would save this country a lot of money.

“If the prison population was cut, the money saved could be invested back into locally run schemes with a better record of reducing crime and reoffending.”

The research shows that of the offenders released from prison into the London borough of Lewisham in 2010:

  • 406 people who served sentences of less than six months cost £1.7 million to imprison, or an average of £4,110 per sentence.
  • Punishing these offenders using community sentences instead would have cost 21 per cent less than the cost of sending them to prison (£1.3 million).

Replicated nationally:

  • 58,497 people sentenced to six months or less in 2010 cost £240 million to imprison.
  • Using community sentences for this group as an alternative would have saved the taxpayer £50 million.

Notes to editors:

Download Redesigning Justice: Making justice reinvestment work


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