Our prison population is too high and predicted to increase. The main driver is sentence inflation – longer sentences given for serious crimes. But there are more minor drivers too, like recall. People who leave prison are usually subject to supervision by probation on release. Those on short sentences used to be released at the prison gate to nothing. Chris Grayling wanted to ensure that short sentenced prisoners did not reoffend on release, so all those sentenced to prison, even just for a week, are now supervised for twelve months in the community. This sounds rational but has led to thousands returning to prison anyway.
Any prisoner on licence in the community can be recalled back to prison, even if they haven’t committed another crime – if they don’t turn up for an appointment, or are not at the address on the files. Alex Cavendish, ex-prisoner writes “I do know a number of people who are not violent who have been recalled to custody because of disagreements with their probation supervisor. Others are back in the slammer because some aspect of their behaviour – which in anyone else might be considered a very minor, non-criminal matter – has caused “concern”. In my experience, this tends to happen in those cases where an offender manager was never really in favour of the individual’s release in the first place”. Though a prisoner should be told why they have been recalled, there is no judicial process and no appeal. Prisoners on indeterminate sentences, who may have spent years trying to get out, are sent back to square A of the parole journey as soon as recalled.
The numbers of recalled prisoners has increased since all short sentenced prisoners were subject to supervision – in the last quarter (April-June 2015), there was a 28% increase in recalls versus the same period last year, 1140 of whom had been serving sentences of less than twelve months. Yet the government says “there is no clear evidence to explain the growth in the recall population”. If we want to reduce unnecessary use of imprisonment, we need to find an explanation. It sounds far too easy for prisoners to be recalled, and a waste of public money. Many prisoners who are recalled undoubtedly need to be back behind bars but, without any appeal mechanism, or even scrutiny, we have no idea whether they are being sent back for right or the wrong reasons. In the US, one of the mechanisms they have used to reduce their prison population is by curbing recall-happy probation officers. Surely we too need to check that we are not wasting money re-imprisoning people who are not a danger to society?