ANVIL Tuesday March 15th Jennifer Armstrong. Her Topic: Is the Criminal Justice System Fit For Purpose?

Jennifer Armstrong is a magistrate and has worked extensively in various parts of the criminal justice system.  These are the notes for you to read and think about if you would like to book a place for this session of ANVIL.  email

“No baby is born bad or evil but as they grow up they may become so because of the people and environment around them”.

“Once you lock someone up, even in the best prisons for a short period of time, that is a very severe punishment indeed.  It’s as bad as you could imagine and possibly more so, and don’t think that a little flat-screen television in the corner is going to alleviate it” Nick Hardwick, outgoing HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

“We have a prison system which fails on so many levels.  For me, our prison service should sit on the same level as all other public services.  If you lock people up and don’t give them any opportunities to better themselves, you are bound to have more victims when they are released” James Timpson, CEO, new chair of the Prison Reform Trust

I am saying at the start my answer to the title question is a resounding NO.

Custody is only one element of the Criminal Justice System but, in explaining my NO within the time available, I am going to concentrate on it.

Below some facts and figures to set the scene.

Custody: some facts and figures (England and Wales)

The total prison population today is about 84,000.  In 1990 it was 45,000.

This is the highest imprisonment rate per head in western Europe.

A place in prison costs about £36,000 per year.

45% of adult offenders are re-convicted within 1 year of release.  Of those serving less than 1 year the figure is 58%.  68% of under 18s are re-convicted within 1 year of release.

Short prison sentences are less effective than community sentences at reducing re-offending but the use of community sentences has nearly halved since 2006.

70 of the 117 prisons are over-crowded.

12,000 prisoners do not know when they will be released i.e. they are serving indeterminate sentences. This is by far the highest number in Europe. The figure was 3,000 in 1992.

People in prison (2015 figures)

A third of men and two thirds of women in prison report that they committed offences in order to get money to buy drugs.  In prison, it is not difficult to get hold of drugs.  Much of the violence in prison is fuelled by drugs.

A quarter of women and nearly a fifth of men report that they had needed treatment for a mental health problem in the year before custody.

50% of male prisoners have been abused or seen others being abused.

A third of all offenders have learning difficulties or other difficulties that impede their ability to cope with the criminal justice system.

About half of prisoners have no qualifications.

1 in 5 adults had no planned accommodation on release.

Only 1 in 4 had a job on release.

Almost all said they wanted to stop offending.  Asked what would help, most said a job and a place to live.

Three quarters of children in custody had an absent father and a third had an absent mother.  1% of children in England are in care but 33% of boys and 60% of girls in custody are ‘looked after’.

9 out of 10 boys in custody had been excluded from school.

The number of deaths in custody is rising.  In 2015, 250 of them, about one third, were self-inflicted.  There were 28,000 self-harm incidents in 2015.  Over a quarter were women although they are only 5% of the prison population.

In my talk I will:

–      expand on some of the facts and figures above.

–      touch on criminal justice in Sweden and Norway

–      look at how our own system could be made more fit for purpose

–      give a little bit of good news!

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