Monday, November 05, 2007

Britain may release offenders because of overcrowding, just like at the Texas Youth Commission

The entire adult prison system in Great Britain is a little more than a half the size of ours in Texas - around 81,000 beds compared to 156,000 or so in Texas prisons. (We've got another 73,000 people in county jails, but I couldn't find a comparable British number for comparison). To supply a sense of scale, more than 60 million people live in Great Britain compared with around 23 million in the Lone Star State, but our prisons house twice the number theirs do. That's quite a difference!

Even so, British lockups have maxxed out their capacity. In fact, overcrowded prisons in Britain make confinement so much harsher than envisioned by statute, says a high-ranking British judge, that some prisoners' sentences should be shortened to "reflect" the more "punitive" conditions, as well as for their own safety. According to the London Daily Mail (Nov. 5):

Thousands of criminals should have their jail terms cut because they are being locked up in 'dreadful conditions', one of the country's top judges has said.

Sir Igor Judge, Head of Criminal Justice, said that judges should reduce the 'punitive' element of a sentence if prisoners faced overcrowded jails.

Any prisoner forced to share a one-man cell with another prisoner, or who does not have access to exercise facilities should have their sentence cut to reflect that, he said.

The news comes as the Government announced emergency plans to cut overcrowding with offenders sentenced to six months or less in prison only serving time behind bars if a cell space was available.

The prison population is hovering close to capacity and hundreds of convicted criminals are having to be housed in overflow police station or court cells at huge cost.

Sir Igor said at a meeting of the Prisoners' Education Trust: "I have believed for some time that you have to take into account, in the punitive element of the sentence, that in conditions that are wildly overcrowded, you may be serving your sentence in dreadful conditions, locked up with one or two other people, or forced into a situation where there is no exercise."

Prisoners considered to still be a danger would remain incarcerated under the plan, but Britain is considering whether to "scrap custodial sentences altogether if an offender is handed a term of six months or under. The plan would mean thousands of offenders being let off with community sentences instead of custody." And this after then-Prime Minister Tony Blair shortened sentences for thousands of offenders as one of his last acts before departing office.

"That could never happen here!" I can hear the Texans saying indignantly, looking down their noses (or possibly over their beer) with sneering contempt toward their white-wigged counterparts across the pond.

Well guess what? That's exactly what just happened this year at Texas youth prisons. Youth offenders held in overcrowded, dangerously understaffed facilities were released by the hundreds rather than keep them confined in conditions that decision makers deemed would not assist their rehabilitation.

What's more, our Legislature told county jurists they could no longer sentence hundreds of misdemeanor offenders to state facilities. The result: The Texas Youth Commission housed about 4,500 kids when 2007 began, compared with about 3,100 today. And thanks to new rule changes, youth sent to TYC will now get out much quicker than in the past.

So how was the response from Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature to the Youth Commission crisis any different than what's happening in the UK? I don't think it is. What's more, I can envision the day coming when Texas' adult prisons will reach the same crossroads and require some version of a similar strategy. Indeed, Great Britain's problems seem quaint by comparison to Texas' incarceration quagmire. From 1978 to 2004, Texas' population increased 67% while our prison population increased 573%. That kind of expansion rate cannot (and should not) be sustained. In the end, either you can't find enough people willing to guard so many prisoners, or taxpayers become unwilling to endlessly foot the bill.

The United States in general and Texas in particular should by now have taught the rest of the world that responding to social problems (e.g., substance abuse, lack of mental health care, poverty) by building ever-more prisons and jails won't curtail crime in the long run. By reducing its prison population in chunks, Britain is pursuing what's really their only short-term management option, just as was the case when TYC reduced inmate numbers because of understaffing. At a certain point, it's all there is to do. That's why it makes a lot of sense to focus more resources as early as possible on strengthening probation and expanding community-based corrections options. It's what will have to be done in the end, anyway. Why not get started?


Anonymous said...

Cutting sentences is no different than giving offenders 10 days for every day served, as they did back in the early 90's. If community sentences involving something other than incarceration is to be examined, why not consider state funded Sanction Courts and state run work crews? Most probation departments have had Community Service Programs funded from local collections for years, and are losing them rapidly because of diminishing resources. Certainly it would be a cheaper alternative than short prison sentences at $41.00 per day per offender. Probation has become a catch all to prevent the prison population from getting out of hand.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I agree with both those suggestions. Both would do more to prevent crime and recidivism, IMO, than incarceration for most low-level offenders.

Anonymous said...

If you even speak about putting juvies in a "work" program all the advocacy groups will come out of the woodwork screaming,"abuse"! I think it would be a wonderful- do you know how boring it is for youth during a 16-hour(ha-ha) schedule. We've said for years-let them tend gardens, work with animals, anything to where they feel like they are accomplishing something. No funding, no funding, it is against their rights, and the list goes on...We can't even get the vocational programs that we need at the facilities to train them in job skills.

Anonymous said...

May be the Brits need to come here and learn the fine art of " People Ranching "!:( They must not have learned how to make a profit off manipulated misery, or how to increase their taxes and departments budgets!:( Or is it their people will not accept being abused??? GOOD FOR THEM!!

Just may be " IF " we practiced the very principals this country was founded upon, and returned to the days EVERYBODY minded their own business! There would be plenty of room in our jails, courts and prisons!

If we held Free Americans with supposed Individual Freedoms accountable for their " ACTIONS "! Instead of others taught biases, bigotry and manipulated fear mongering, WE WOULDN'T BE IN THIS MESS!

Sadly our country and her supposed Freedoms, Justice and Liberty for all, has been manipulated in to " You can have as much Freedom and Liberties and Justice as you can AFFORD "!

The PROOF a systems is corrupt is when it can no longer support it's self! That is where we are at today, OVERLOADED!!!

There Has To Be A Better Way!

Rusty White

Anonymous said...

Scott ~ you wont find a comparable number for your jail inmates to ours because the UK doesnt have the distinction between jail and prison like you guys do. The closest you might get is inmates who are held 'on remand', which means held in custody before trial.

rusty ~ well I'm one Brit who spends way too much time in Texas these days visiting my hubby in a TDCJ unit, and the idea of running an prison system for profit is about as alien to Brits as refried beans and longhorns! Our system isnt perfect by a long shot, but there are some parts of it that make a whole lot more sence than yours do.

Anonymous said...


WELCOME, sadly you are not a lone in your misery!:( We the supposed freest country on earth, have more people locked behind bars than any other country! Fear has now become the weapon and TOOL our political parasites use FREELY!

Reason, Rights and Freedoms are no longer an issue, only ones self serving agendas!:( Sadly " People Ranching " has become away to load ones budget, as well as feed the families and FEARS of the self pro-claimed chosen ones!

Don't give up hope on us yet, there is a movement rolling all across our Great Nation! Some of "" US "" are still silly enough to believe WE STILL OWN THIS COUNTRY!

The MINORITY that has hijacked our country, will one day answer to those they have been feeding upon!

I invite you to we are an organization only 4 years old, yet we now speak in 57 different countries around the world. We started with 5 and now our numbers are in the thousands!

We will only suffer the abuse we willingly accept!

There Has To Be A Better Way!

Rusty White

The Abolishment Movement said...

I wonder if the UK has Private Prisons. I say release all non violent (drug related crimes) offenders. Also, how many more could be released to home lock ups?That alone should ease the overcrowding. We also have an overcrowded prison population in Massachusetts,due mainly to the drug crimes.

Anonymous said...

abolishion movement ~ we have 11 private prisons in the UK but they still come under the same oversee body (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons) details here:
I disagree with releasing all drug offenders though: release those caught with small amounts for personal use maybe, but not those who sell, manufacture and traffic. In my eyes, they are worse than those who are doing time for just one murder because of the capacity of the drugs they sell to kill and harm many many others.

rusty ~ I cant fully agree with you either, though I admire anyone with enough passion to do something about their views. I've seen too many times first hand what drugs can do to people and there is no way I could condone legalising them all.

The only way I can see of changing things is to tackle the parole boards first, make changes to their requirements for parole and standardise them. Then instead of putting more $$$ into building prisons you cant staff, try putting the $$$ into community programmes instead. Get the kids before the pushers do, and give them something to aspire to that doesnt come in tin foil.

Anonymous said...


A vote to Regulate and Legalize drugs "" IS NOT "" a vote for or against any drug! "" IT IS NOT "" to solve our drug use problems! It is to do something that will take the support and power and money AWAY from those this failed policy of 30+ year guarantees it to YEAR AFTER YEAR! While ending the innocent deaths and spread of diseases, and bring back the trust and honor and respect those in Law Enforcement deserve!

I have buried family and Brothers in Law Enforcement over this CRAP! I am not a advocate for DRUGS! "" BUT "" at the same time we must use common sense to solve this problem! In the 60's and 70's our people did every drug known to man kind! And they went on to mature and become every profession known to mankind! Even Presidents, Brain Surgeons, Judges, Teachers etc...

The truth is MILLIONS of Americans have been using things others don't like, and they were NEVER problem to their families or others! UNTIL we passed biased and bigoted laws that made their Private lives PUBLIC!

Drug use IS NOT automatic abuse! We can no longer set by and watch our people and our children be fed upon! We can no longer arm our children and people with LIES and then deny WE ARE TO BLAME FOR THEM DYING!!!!

There Has To Be A Better Way!

Rusty White