RCPsych responds to Secretary of State for Justice’s speech at Conservative Party Conference 2019

Statement / comment
02 October 2019

Professor Pamela Taylor, Chair of the Forensic Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“The Secretary of State for Justice has announced his intention that people given long prison sentences should serve more of those sentences in prison. His own estimate is that this will increase the prison population by about 3000. England and Wales already have more people in prison than any other Western European country. Report after report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons has shown that our prisons are already overcrowded, with many unfit for purpose. 

“Today’s announcement leaves the Royal College of Psychiatrists concerned for the health and safety of public and offenders alike. Prisoners are dying at an unprecedented rate from suicide and physical ill health, and levels of self-harm in prison are at an all time high. Committed mental health teams are still having difficulty accessing prisoners. How are prisoners supposed to be treated, rehabilitated and prepare themselves for the outside world with longer in these circumstances? Mr Buckland does not say.

“The point of earlier release for longer term prisoners is to encourage reform, make appropriate victim consultations and ensure that anyone who does qualify for release is subject to community supervision in the interests of safety. Automatic lengthening the time spent in prison, without reference to health and progress, will reduce the power of these important safeguards. 

“The RCPsych promotes services from evidence on what works. The previous government announced an ambitious programme not only to scrap short sentences, but also to promote optimal community supervision, with mental health treatment requirements to keep people out of prison and well in the community. We would urge this government not to row back on a visionary and progressive agenda, but rather extend it now to this different group of more dangerous offenders.

The advantages and disadvantages in lengthening time in prison for them must be evidenced. This is an opportunity for informed debate on the place of prisons in the true enhancement of public safety, and to act on up-to-date research on what really works in this ideal we all share.”