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18 How. J. Penology & Crime Prevention 1 (1979)

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League Leader

(A column  of individual comments on current issues contributed by the
Director of the Howard  League for Penal Reform,  by members  of the
Council of the League, or by the Editor of the Howard Journal.)

Prisons - Good  Buy?
  In  February  1977  the Government   White  Paper  on Expenditure
contained the prognosis that the number  of persons in custody would
continue to rise and that Because  of restraints in expenditure there
will be some decline in prison life and the state of the buildings (The
Treasury 1977).
  The  House of Commons   Expenditure Committee's Sub-Committee  on
Education, Arts and  the Home  Office considered this an unacceptable
situation and  decided to investigate possible ways of reducing  the
pressure on  the prisons and  so  reversing this dangerous and  self-
perpetuating trend.
  The  inquiry was set up in October 1977 and  evidence was received
from  some 21 organisations, including the Howard  League. Custodial
institutions throughout England,  Scotland, Sweden  and  the U.S.A.
were also studied and visited.
  The   Committee's  final report (House   of Commons 1978) was
published in September  1978, and has been welcomed  by the Howard
League and  other organisations as a concise guide to areas of the penal
system that need action. It is not a radical document - it appears to
accept, for example, the Home  Office opinion that a direct switch of
resources to non-custodial measures would be unrealistic - but it is
to be  hoped  that its very moderation will improve its prospects of
acceptance, and  it is up to interested groups, and M.P.s and  other
individuals, to make sure that its wide purview does not provide an
excuse for  ignoring the well-aimed  proposals it makes  on  specific
issues.
   The first and most obvious suggestion to relieve the pressure on our
prisons was to reduce their overcrowding. The provision of alternative
options for committal  for the substantial number  of offenders for
whom   prison  is generally accepted  as inappropriate  was  strongly
recommended.   They include detoxification centres for alcoholics, secure
units in psychiatric hospitals for the seriously mentally disordered and
supportive hostels for the disturbed and inadequate people who without
such  help become  a  nuisance to society. It is the funding of these
projects which  remains  unresolved. In suggesting that they  should
continue  to  be  essentially the responsibility of the D.H.S.S.  or
voluntary services the urgency of the need for change may have been
overlooked. Without  a substantial reallocation of Home Office finance
these  constructive  recommendations    are  unlikely  to  be   fully
implemented.
  The  report also makes   the pointed suggestion that the judiciary
should be made  more  aware of the reality of prison conditions, of the
shortage of accommodation  and how overcrowding and  the pressures on
staff  make   their  rehabilitative function counter-effective. This


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