Boris Johnson’s hardline approach to justice will not cut crime and will only pile pressure on overstretched prisons, expert campaigners have said, as research reveals life sentences have already risen sharply.

The Prison Reform Trust issued the stark warning just days after the government unveiled proposals to lock up some serious violent and sexual offenders for longer by scrapping automatic release halfway through a jail sentence.

Offenders serving standard determinate sentences of seven years or more, where the maximum sentence is life, will be released at the two-thirds point, rather than halfway, under the changes unveiled last week.

Introducing a new report, the Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, said the government was looking in the wrong places to restore confidence in the justice system.

He said: “Longer sentences haven’t improved public confidence or safety before, and they won’t now. But they have helped produce a prison system that fails to deliver either safety or rehabilitation.

“Good soundbites don’t always make good policy – a coherent plan for reform is long overdue.”

Researchers suggest England and Wales are already tougher on punishing serious crime than other countries.

Prof Ben Crewe and Dr Susie Hulley, from the University of Cambridge, and Dr Serena Wright, from Royal Holloway, University of London, found a dramatic increase in the number of people serving life sentences.

According to the findings, fewer than 100 people a year were handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 15 years in England and Wales between 2000 and 2003.

By 2008, this had risen to 249 adults and as of September 2019, 1,872 life sentence prisoners had tariffs of more than 20 years.

Last year, there were also 880 serving a minimum of 25 years and 291 with a tariff of more than 30, excluding those serving the whole-life tariff who are unlikely to ever be released.

The findings of the report indicate there was no clear evidence that the latest rise in lengths of tariffs is linked to changes in the nature or severity of offending.

The research claims growing numbers of people serving long sentences will mean prisons are likely to remain overcrowded for the foreseeable future.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Under this government, serious violent and sexual offenders will spend more time where they belong – behind bars. We are spending £2.75bn on transforming and modernising the estate, including creating 10,000 additional prison places.”


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