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Calls to cut sentences to reduce prison population rejected

17th Feb 2017

The justice secretary, Liz Truss, is to reject making deep cuts in the record 85,000 prison population in England and Wales, warning that such “quick fix” solutions would put the public at greater risk.

On Monday 20th February, Truss will argue that the biggest cause of the growth in the prison population in the last 20 years is the result of a much tougher approach to sexual offences, domestic violence, and child abuse, rather than because of longer prison sentences, as is often claimed.

According to Truss, the 140% increase in sex offenders being sent to jail since 2000, as well as the 75% increase in custodial sentences for violent offenders, has led to “a profound change in the nature” of the jail population in England and Wales. Three out of every five offenders are now in jail for crimes of sex, drug pushing, or violence.

Truss will say that she wants to see a reduction in the prison population by reforming offenders through early intervention and more effective community penalties, as well as by better managing those who are locked up.

Truss is also to argue that recent reforms to the criminal justice system have given more victims of domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse the confidence to come forward, which has been the biggest driver of the growth in prison numbers. The jail population in England and Wales has risen from 40,000 in 1990 to 86,000 in 2012 when it stabilised.

Her intervention comes in advance of her prisons and courts reform bill which will set out radical reforms to tackle the increasingly volatile and violent situation in prisons in England and Wales. The latest figures show the highest ever level of self-inflicted deaths, assaults and incidents of self-harm across UK prisons.

“We all agree it is desirable to have a lower prison population but it has to be for the right reasons,”  Truss will say. “Public protection is paramount which means managing the prison population in a safe and sustainable way.”