The group of expert researchers who produced a British Academy policy report on imprisonment have welcomed the government’s decision to implement reforms aimed at reducing violence, substance abuse and self-harm within prisons, as well as rates of reoffending.
The Prime Minister announced an overhaul of Britain’s 121 prisons in a bid to “tackle our deepest social problems and extend life chances”. He commented further that “prison reform should be a great progressive cause in British politics” and that there are “diminishing return from ever higher levels of incarceration”1, which echoes the British Academy’s policy report A Presumption Against Imprisonment: Social order and Social Values.
This report draws on expertise from the humanities and social sciences to offer an evidence-based approach to reducing reoffending through re-evaluating the current use of custodial sentences. It was written by a group of academic experts including Professor Andrew Ashworth FBA, Professor Roger Cotterrell FBA, Professor Andrew Coyle, Professor Antony Duff FBA, Professor Nicola Lacey FBA, Professor Alison Liebling and Professor Rod Morgan.
Alun Evans, Chief Executive of the British Academy, welcomed the opportunity to work with the government. He said:
“The Academy is in a unique position to tap into expertise spanning the breadth of humanities and social sciences, both to offer new insights into imprisonment and the justice system, and to provide a forum in which to discuss the latest evidence and analysis. We welcome the opportunity to discuss plans for reform with the government.”
Professor Antony Duff FBA, University of Stirling, chair of the steering group for A Presumption Against Imprisonment, said:
“It is good to hear the Prime Minister recognising that the ‘failure of our system today is scandalous’. We hope that his government will recognise that what is needed is not only radical, and properly funded, reform of our prisons, but also a serious attempt to reduce the number of people we send to prison.”
Professor Alison Liebling, Director of the Prisons Research Centre, University of Cambridge, commented:
“There is no doubt that reform is needed. We are heartened by the language being used, and the emphasis on education and rehabilitation. There is now a considerable body of evidence on the causes of suicide, self-harm, violence in prison and on reoffending after prison, and we are encouraged that this evidence is being taken seriously.”
Professor Nicola Lacey FBA, London School of Economics, said:
“We warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of a renewed focus on prison reform. There have been several well-reasoned reports over the last twenty years, and yet little progress towards delivering the structural reforms – including in sentencing – that are widely recognised to be needed if real change is to be effected. I very much hope that this announcement may at last herald a turning point.”
Professor Andrew Ashworth FBA, QC, University of Oxford, said:
“I look forward to the government’s practical initiatives to remove prison overcrowding, to stop the use of imprisonment for offenders who ought not to be there, and to re-emphasize rehabilitation for those who remain inside.”
A Presumption Against Imprisonment is available online: