The rationales for sentencing are a confused mixture, and its aims should be clarified. Evidence contradicts the slogan that ‘prison works’. Lord Justice Auld, among many others, has pointed out that imprisonment simply does not do what is expected of it. Above all it is used to indicate the seriousness of the offence, but this could be done as effectively by reparation.

Even within the existing system, improvements could be made. Projects which have worked but been discontinued for lack of funding could be recreated. ‘Transferable funding’ could ensure that when the probation service establishes effective programmes that persuade courts to avoid unnecessary prison sentences, the programmes are funded by the savings in prison costs (as in California in the 1960s).

More information could be presented to the media, showing that the public, especially victims, prefer effective measures to ‘tough’ ones that do not work.

Lastly, restorative justice offers a different philosophy of dealing with crime, based on repairing harm, victim-offender dialogue, and community involvement. Possible objections and tensions can be overcome. Restorative practices can be extended, especially into schools, and form the basis of a restorative society.

Read the whole report.