Increases in the 'revolving door syndrome' together with deteriorating prison conditions have led to a leading UK charity to call for the removal of prison recalls as a consequence of a breach of licence.
In its evidence to the United Kingdom Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights, the Howard League argues that its proposal, which would not require new legislation, would considerably ease prison numbers and help people genuinely wanting to make a fresh start but struggling to comply with licence conditions.
Thousands of people have been recalled to custody in recent months, putting additional pressure on prisons already struggling to cope with chronic overcrowding, rising numbers of instances of violence and deaths behind bars and deep budget cuts.
Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "Why are we sending men and women back to prison when they have not committed new crimes?
"Far from transforming rehabilitation, privatising the probation service and making more people subject to licence conditions has sped up the revolving door, returning people to prison and putting more pressure on a system that fails everyone.
"Removing the possibility of recall to custody would be a more sensible way to help people who are struggling to comply with their licence conditions."
New crimes would continue to be dealt with separately through the usual channels, but other community penalties could be imposed for breaches of licence that do not amount to a criminal offence.
The Howard League points out that the reasons for recall are often vague and would be of no interest to the authorities if a person were not on licence. They include: failing to be 'of good behaviour', 'failure to keep in touch' and 'drugs/alcohol' amongst others.
The organisation's submission also suggests that there are "real risks" that recall decisions could be motivated by financial factors now that the majority of the probation service has been sold to private companies. It raises the concern that companies could be encouraged to trigger recall as early as possible to avoid investing in people who they think are doomed to fail.
However, the Ministry of Justice maintains that is misleading to compare the increases in recalls with statistics from the 1990s. "Public protection is our priority and offenders on licence must comply with a strict set of conditions. If these conditions are breached they face going back to prison," says a MoJ spokesperson.
"Safety in prisons is fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system and a vital part of our reform plans."