In the UK, the most punitive nation in Western Europe, the prison population (as of January 20, 2006) was 75,363 inmates (January 2006, 2006), a number that is still hovering near the all-time high of 75,544 set in April of 2004. Statistics gathered in 2003 indicated England and Wales imprisoned 141 people per 100,000. “More than three-fifths of countries (62.5 percent) have rates below 150 per 100,000. The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, some 686 per 100,000 of the national population” (Walmsley, 2003). From 1993 to 2003, the prison population increased by 66 percent, 191 percent for women. The rapid growth in the prison population has not been fuelled by escalating crime rates nor by an increase in the number of offenders appearing before the courts. “Since peaking in 1995, BCS crime has fallen by 44 percent, representing 8.5 million fewer crimes, with vehicle crime and burglary falling by over a half (both by 57 percent) and violent crime falling by 43 percent during this period” (Crime, 2005).
Harsher sentencing, it is argued, has resulted in our ever-increasing prison population because prison is not being used as a last resort. “Home Office data reveals that about 78 percent of people sentenced to immediate custody in 2003 had committed non-violent offenses, those that did not involve violence, sex or robbery” (Why the Prison System Needs Reform, 2006). The prevalent imprisonment trend invokes a high human cost to those who caused no harm to another individual or property. The practice is also costly to taxpayers. “During 2003-2004, it cost an average of £27,320 per year to keep someone in prison. To build a new prison costs the equivalent of 2 district hospitals or 60 primary schools” (Why the Prison System Needs Reform, 2006). 73 percent of young male offenders released in 2001 were reconvicted within 2 years and 61 percent of all prisoners released .in 2001 were reconvicted within two years demonstrating that prison is not working as a rehabilitation technique and doesn’t deter crime. . .