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Probation officers and offender healthcare professionals are at the centre of Justice Secretary Liz Truss’ shift in focus to more effective use of community sentences. 




Offering support for prisoners with mental health, drink and drugs issues through the use of trained substance misuse workers– and keeping more out of prisons – have been highlighted as crucial in “managing the prison population in a safe and sustainable way” while maintaining public protection.

Ms Truss acknowledged in a speech she made at an event at The Centre for Social Justice that there is no “quick fix” and that reductions by cap or quota, or sweeping sentencing cuts were not a “magic bullet” but believes improved community sentences are an important step.

Change in sentencing landscape


In outlining her views on sentencing and the prison population, she acknowledged in a frank assessment that: sentences are too long; prisons are too overcrowded; the wrong people are in prison; and management of the prison population needs an overhaul.

Hitting back at suggestions that the UK is “an outlier” in terms of the numbers sent to prison, she pointed to a stable prison population of about 85,000 since 2010, following the 31% rise between 2000 and 2010.

Today, fewer shorter sentences are handed out for offences like shoplifting contrasted with tougher sentences for violent crimes and sex offences.



Key role for courts


She said the wrong way to address the problem would be to shorten sentences or to release offenders earlier but to “make sure we have the right resources, the right workforce, the right buildings and the right regimes to reform offenders and turn their lives around.”
While governors will have greater powers to drive reform, she wants the courts to play a frontline role with more community sentences, emphasising Ministry of Justice research showing that community sentences are most effective when they tackle the problems that contribute to the offender’s crime.

Quicker access to mental health treatment


With mental health treatment requirements accounting for less than 1% of all treatment commenced in 2015 as part of a community sentence, she said “quicker and more certain access to mental health treatment for offenders” will mean fewer custodial sentences.
New mental health protocols will be developed to ensure timely access to mental health services where the courts impose a mental health treatment requirement as part of a sentence. Courts should also have better access to psychologists and offender healthcare professionals to diagnose and oversee treatment of offenders.

Tackling drink and drug scourge


More is needed to do more to tackle the scourge of drink and drugs with data showing that in 2015 drug treatment orders accounted for only 5% of treatments attached to community sentences. Evidence from Australia suggests those adhering to drug treatment orders are 37% less likely to offend.
Recognising that early intervention by courts is important in stopping women offenders from entering prison, she said a strategy for women will be announced later this year.

Improving community sentences


Ms Truss said she wanted to see the prison population go down because Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service has become better at reforming offenders; that there is earlier intervention, and improvements in managing the population inside jails.
“We need to do the hard work of improving community sentences, dealing with problems like drink and drugs and making our prisons work better,” she concluded.

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