A penal system suitable for the 21st century | Letters

Louis Blom-Cooper QC says the UK’s courts should reflect that their lengthy sentences of imprisonment are no greater deterrent than short sentences. Plus Clair Hilder awaits sight of the delayed Angiolini review

Your letters (4 September) prompt me to respond, in the light of Thursday’s Lords debate on overcrowding in prisons, initiated by Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, a distinguished retired justice of the supreme court. There should be two immediate outcomes of the debate. First, a short-term plan so that courts can reflect that their lengthy sentences of imprisonment are no greater deterrent than short sentences. The advisory council on the penal system advocated as much in its report on maximum sentences in July 1977. The courts seem nevertheless to have ignored the precept. Second, in the longer term, the government should now establish an independent review of the penal system suitable for the 21st century, reporting in two years’ time.
Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC
Member of the advisory council on the penal system from 1966 to 1978, London

• As a solicitor who represents families after deaths in custody I await sight of the delayed Angiolini review and read with interest Vikram Dodd’s report (4 September) on its as yet unpublished conclusions and recommendations. They would require significant investment in the mental health services available to the police, but at a time when police chiefs are warning of a “perfect storm” due to staff shortages and budget cuts, alongside reported cuts in mental health services. One wonders whether the Angiolini review will face the same fate as frequent previous reports looking at deaths in state detention, including the 2015 Harris review on self-inflicted deaths of young people in prison, which saw the government reject 30 of its recommendations .
Clair Hilder
Senior associate, Hodge Jones & Allen

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