Tougher sentencing will put pressure on prisons

The jail population in England and Wales could soar towards 95,000 within six years, Whitehall officials forecast yesterday as the Coalition signalled a toughening in its approach to criminal justice policy.

In a defeat for Kenneth Clarke's liberal instincts on sentencing, the Justice Secretary announced automatic jail terms for 16- and 17-year-olds found guilty of knife offences and American-style mandatory life sentences for offenders convicted of a second violent or sexual crime. Just 24 hours earlier he had expressed grave reservations about both policies, but appeared to have been overruled by David Cameron.

After years of increases, the prison population had recently begun to stabilise – and Mr Clarke said last year he believed it could be cut by 3,000. But it will be boosted by up to 1,000 as looters involved in the summer's riots serve tough sentences imposed by courts. The effect on jails is already beginning to be seen, with the prison population rising to a record 87,670 this month.

And according to new projections by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the numbers behind bars could rise to a possible high of 94,800 in 2017, a total that would require the construction of several new jails. Mandatory prison sentences for knife crime committed by adults will also increase the pressure on the prison population.

Numbers of teenagers in custody had been falling in recent years, but the MoJ yesterday estimated that the mandatory jail sentence for 16- and 17-year-olds guilty of knife offences could lead to the imprisonment of up to 400 youngsters a year. Although Mr Clarke yesterday predicted the new "two strikes and you're out" life sentences for the most violent offenders would affect only 20 people a year, the proposals marked a distinct change of rhetoric by the Government on criminal justice.

They come months after Mr Cameron vetoed the Justice Secretary's plans to give sentence discounts to offenders pleading guilty at the earliest opportunity. The new populist tone – unlikely to be welcomed by the Coalition's Liberal Democrats – echoes the hardline "prison works" approach to law and order of Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary between 1993 and 1997.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Too often mandatory penalties take away judicial discretion, threaten the principles of justice and proportionality and swell already overcrowded jails." Des Hudson, the chief executive of the Law Society, which represents solicitors, signalled his alarm over the moves towards mandatory sentences, both for adults and juveniles.

"Judges should be trusted to exercise their discretion when sentencing offenders, taking into account sentencing guidelines and the maximum penalty laid down by Parliament," he said.

The automatic life sentences for the most serious offenders are replacing the previous Government's system of indeterminate sentences for Public Protection (IPPs), under which more than 6,500 offenders have been sent to jail without a fixed date for their release.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?