The Government has been urged to look for alternatives to jail sentences by the lead Catholic Bishop for Prisons.
The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Richard Moth, stressed that a criminal justice system should be “rooted in hope, forgiveness and reconciliation”.
His comments came amid warnings that Government plans to keep serious criminals behind bars for longer could prompt re-offending, radicalisation and violence in jails.
While noting that the Government’s proposed sentencing reforms included some “very welcome steps”, the bishop also stressed the importance of providing alternatives to custodial sentencing, where possible.
“The planned sentencing reforms include some very welcome steps such as piloting problem-solving courts, improving pre-sentence reports and reforming criminal records.,” Bishop Moth said. “The Church has long supported such measures as part of our vision for a criminal justice system rooted in hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation.”
But while the need to ensure the safety of society is paramount, “it is important that the Government continues every effort to persevere with sentencing reform, including restorative justice and alternatives to custodial sentencing.”
Robert Buckland, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, has acknowledged that a reform of the sentencing system is needed, branding the current system ‘complex and…too often ineffectual’.
‘Victims and the public often find it difficult to understand, and have little faith that sentences are imposed with their safety in mind,’ Mr Buckland wrote in the Sentencing Reform White Paper, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing.
Mr Buckland said the new system would provide a ‘new, smarter approach to sentencing’, one that ‘takes account of crimes – robust enough to keep offenders behind bars to protect the public, but agile enough to give offenders a fair start on rehabilitation’.
Bishop Moth’s own report into sentencing reform in 2018 warned ‘that greater use of prison is not always the most appropriate answer and is resulting in real harm to individuals, families, and communities’.
A Journey of Hope recognised that ‘the Catholic Church must play a part in changing public attitudes around offenders and the use of prison’.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of social justice charity Nacro – which supports prisoners, said “senselessly banging people up for longer” would not create a criminal justice system “fit for the 21st century” and this would “only add more pressure to this already stretched system”.
Picture: Archive photo, dated 07/11/03, of a prison cell. (Paul Faith/PA).