Often described as the 'Revolving Door', the effect of short prison sentences can be stark for people entering and leaving the prison estate. Short sentences are typically given to offenders who persistently commit low level offences, such as theft and non-violent drug taking. This offending can often be because of addiction, homelessness or mental ill-health. In 2013, short custodial sentences made up 13% of all sentences (Mews, Hillier, McHugh, Coxon, 2015). However, what reoffending data indicates is that short term sentences are not effective at reducing offending, with reoffending rates for these sentences resulting in higher offending rates than the use of community sentences or suspended sentences (Ministry of Justice, 2018). 

From a custodial perspective short term sentences often fail to support offenders to stabilise in drug and alcohol treatment. Furthermore, recent data gathered by The Revolving Door Agency (2018) found that 3 in 5 (60%) of people sent to custody for less than 6 months report a drug or alcohol problem on arrival at prison. Short term prison sentences can also prevent meaningful engagement in education and employment, often resulting in offenders simply 'biding their time' waiting for release. On release short term sentences can also disrupt family bonds, increase homelessness and fail to provide through the gate support that offenders need to begin to move towards desistance from offending. Housing rules mean that after 13 weeks in custody an offender is unable to claim housing benefit, thus putting their tenancy at risk and increasing the likelihood of homelessness (House of Commons, 2017). Whilst more recent legislation in offender management aimed to tackle the lack of support that offenders on short term custodial sentences have historically received by mandating probation supervision for twelve months when an offender is sentenced for more than two days (Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014), in practice critics are concerned about the effectiveness of this approach, human rights implications and sustainability.  

 

 

References 

House of Commons. (2017).  Housing Support for Ex-Offenders (England and Wales). Briefing Paper Number 2989. [Electronic Resource] http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN02989/SN02989.pdf  

Mews. A., Hillier. J., McHugh., M., Coxon C. (2015). The Impact of Short Custodial Sentences, Community Orders and Suspended Sentence Orders on Re-Offending. Ministry of Justice - Analytical Series. [Electronic Resource] Available at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/399389/impact-of-short-custodial-sentences-on-reoffending.PDF 

Ministry of Justice (2017) Offender management statistics quarterly: October to December 2016, London: Ministry of Justice 

Ministry of Justice. (2018). Do Offender Characteristics Affect the Impact of Short Custodial Sentences and Court Orders on Reoffending? Analytical Summary 2018. [Electronic Resource] Available athttps://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/706597/do-offender-characteristics-affect-the-impact-of-short-custodial-sentences.pdf  

Revolving Doors. (2018). New Data Shows at Least 3 in 5 Short Sentences Prisoners Have an Addiction.   [Electronic Recourse]. http://www.revolving-doors.org.uk/blog/new-data-shows-least-3-5-short-sentenced-prisoners-have-addiction