Another depressing set of statistics has emerged from HM Prison Service, telling us that the prison population in the UK has now reached record numbers, and no further places are available, even if you book early to avoid disappointment. Worse still, cells are now being routinely used in police stations and courts, and they too are full to bursting.

The cost to you, the taxpayer, is staggering. It costs between £25,000 – £36,000 per annum to house an average prisoner, and the cost goes higher with the category. There are now 81,681 prisoners, so you do the maths. Police and court cells don’t come cheap. It costs £420 a night in a police cell, and £300 a night in a court cell. To put that into context, a “Truly Madly Deeply” night at Claridges costs £455, and a “Timeless” weekend starts from £259, so if things go from bad to worse for the newly created Ministry of Justice, which they will, there are rooms available, even as I write.

And what does the government propose to tackle this problem? Build more prisons, which is not the solution! The problem of overcrowding will persist whilst the government approaches crime and punishment from a purely knee jerk reaction based on “catching the public mood.” That is no way to legislate, even in the short term.

The unpalatable truth is that we are sending far too many offenders to prison, full stop! We need to raise the custody threshold, not lower it all the time. And above all, we need to give back to the judges the power and the right to pass appropriate sentences, and not shackle them with flow charts and sentencing guidelines. It’s a complete shambles! What’s more, it’s uncivilised!

What is needed, first and foremost, is a properly funded, fully staffed and proactive probation service to supervise and rehabilitate offenders within the community. But if imprisonment or detention is essential, custodial sentences should be much shorter. Anybody who has been to prison, especially for the first time, will tell you that the first seven days are the worst. After that, they become dehumanised and desensitised, and simply “go with the flow.” The short, sharp shock, also known as “the clang of the prison gates,” is a far more effective deterrent than long and indeterminate sentences.

One final thought – there has been a lively debate recently on the evils of battery chicken farming, where these unfortunate birds are crammed together in small cages, and deprived of exercise and any quality of life, so I ask, where are all those so-called Human Rights lawyers taking the government to court for inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners crammed together in small cages, three or more at a time, designed for a single occupant, where they are deprived of proper exercise and any quality of life? Surely these human battery chickens are as deserving a case for immediate redress as their feathered counterparts?

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David is an English barrister, writer, public performer and keynote speaker. His full profile can be found on his website.


  1. Not often do I come across a blog that’s both educated and entertaining, and let me inform you, you will have hit the nail on the head. Your thought is outstanding, the problem is that not enough people are talking about it.

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