Letter: How to clear prison cells

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Sir: As proposals to manage prison over-crowding become ever more outlandish - not to say off-shoreish - it may be timely to revive a suggestion which was made several years ago but which I have not seen canvassed recently.

Most efforts to reduce the prison population meet objections on the grounds that they interfere excessively with the courts' discretion, disturb proportion in sentencing, undermine deterrence or otherwise compromise the safety of the public.

There is, however, an approach which threatens none of these principles. First set a limit on the size of the prison population. When that limit is reached, the admission of another prisoner immediately triggers a release. In other words, the level of remission would be calibrated to respond to the pressure upon the system as a whole. In effect, this would bring forward the release of prisoners by no more than a matter of days. Those given longer sentences by the courts would serve longer sentences.

Not the least of the advantages of this approach is that there would be the beginning of a connection between courts' decisions and the mechanisms of early release. One of the problems of the present system is that it protects sentencers from the consequences of their decisions.

ROBERT CANTON

Keyworth, Nottinghamshire

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