Tony Blair's penal policy condemned – by Cherie

Commission headed by QC attacks 'dumping' of addicts and mentally ill prisoners

Labour's flagship policies on criminal justice have brought about a crisis in the prison system, a group of leading penal reformers headed by Cherie Booth QC has concluded.

In a radical report, the Commission on English Prisons Today calls for the closure of many prisons and a new direction in sentencing.

The commission said that the National Offenders Management Service (Noms), established five years ago after a review led by Tony Blair's office, was "ineffective" and should be dismantled.

Noms, which brings together the management of prisons and probation, was also attacked as "unwieldy" and "over-complex".

Instead, the commission, set up two years ago by the Howard League for Prison Reform, said the emphasis should be on imprisoning offenders locally so that communities had a financial stake in the cost of sentencing.

Its report, Do Better Do Less, concludes that prisons have become "warehouses" where people with mental health problems and those with drug and alcohol addictions are "dumped".

The authors said criminals should be given community punishments instead of short prison terms. But it failed to say how many offenders should be in prison at any one time. Prison numbers have reached nearly 84,000, double what they were in 1992, despite an overall decline in crime.

Penal policy and the criminal justice system were responsible for driving up the numbers, said the commissioners.

"The intense and punitive political activity has had an effect of encouraging a more fearful and insecure population," the report said. Government policies had "raised unrealistic expectations" of what prisons could do for society, creating a "crisis in penal excess".

Ms Booth, the commission president, said: "This final report should be a road-map for long-term and fundamental reform. The commission proposes that justice is more local. Crucially, more widespread use of effective community sentences would both allow us to reduce the use of prison and allow for re-investment of resources into local communities to cut offending."

The commission chairman, Professor David Wilson, said England and Wales punished criminals "harshly and excessively". Ministers were guilty of passing legislation that increased prison terms while disregarding the consequences for the prison population.

"The result is a crisis of overcrowding which threatens to bring the penal system to its knees," he said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said prison would remain a "central part" of government policy: "While we disagree with some of the commission's findings, we do agree that, for those who have committed less serious offences, community punishments are highly effective, with a lower re-offending rate than short custodial sentences.

"But prison... plays a critical role in punishing and reforming and is the right place for the most serious, violent and persistent offenders. By describing prisons as 'vast warehouses' the report both distorts reality and overlooks the superb work of prison officers and other staff who work so hard to protect the public and help offenders."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat