People must be sick and tired of hearing about the crisis in our prisons. Many must think that things have been exaggerated, it can't have been that bad for that long, or that the prison service has simply found a way of coping with the pressure it is under, somehow or another it will always manage to keep the lid on. After all, the prison system as a whole has been overcrowded in every year since 1994. Now though, as the Lord Chief Justice has just warned, the social and economic costs are become just too great to bear. It's come to the crunch on prison costs and prison numbers.
When you start talking numbers the scale of the problem quickly becomes evident. Tough political rhetoric, and the failure to take into account the impactof new legislation and haphazard changes in sentencing policy, has driven the prison population up at a dramatic pace. While the number of people found guilty by the courts has remained largely constant over recent years, many of those who, for a similar offence would have received a fine or a community sentence, are now being sentenced to custody, and for longer and longer terms. Creating new offences, introducing a raft of mandatory penalties and then, under the Criminal Justice Act (2003) bringing in a new indeterminate sentence has led to massive inflation in sentencing.