In the debate in the House of Lords on the second reading of the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill Lord Dholakia the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats welcomed , the long-overdue measures to bring certain offenders who have served sentences of four years or more within the scope of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and to reduce the rehabilitation periods for offenders serving shorter sentences, which will help more reformed offenders live down their past, obtain employment and contribute positively to the community.
Lord Dholakia continued by saying, “Regrettably, however, the positive measures in the Bill are overshadowed by a raft of provisions that are designed to further increase the harshness of sentencing. It requires more offenders to serve lengthy minimum sentences and increases the minimum terms for offenders serving sentences of detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure for murders committed when the offender was under 18. The Bill requires courts to set longer minimum terms for discretionary life sentence prisoners and It increases the proportion of sentences for certain violent and sexual offences that must be served in custody. A new power will be created allowing the Secretary of State to refer high-risk offenders to the Parole Board for a parole review before release. All these changes come after two decades during which sentencing in this country has already markedly increased in severity.
Lord Dholakia focused the attention of the House on rehabilitative services which may be reduced as a result of this Bill, risking increased instability, self-harm, and violence by offenders. Prisons have found it increasingly difficult to provide resettlement support for prisoners to avoid reoffending after release.
The Government are ratcheting up sentencing at a time when we already use imprisonment much more extensively than other comparable countries in the past, the United Kingdom now has the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe.
Lord Dholakia continued,” As a result of our high and increasing use of custody, most of our prisons are overcrowded: 80 of the 121 prisons are currently holding more prisoners than the certified normal population. Even before the Bill’s provisions become law, the prison population is already projected to rise by a quarter over the next five years.
He concluded, if the Bill passes through the House, I hope that the sentencing provisions can be subject to very careful scrutiny to ensure that any marginal gains in public safety from incapacitating more offenders are not outweighed by the prospect of turning out more released prisoners whose prospects for rehabilitation have been seriously damaged by the pressures of an ever-increasing prison population.