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The Changes in the UK Penal System

The end of the 19th century played a significant role in the transition English prison system to a modern form of penal policy, especially after the long-standing reign of the Victorian Penal System. Prisons were no longer just simple establishments for housing inmates but were also crucial for addressing the rehabilitation and well-being of inmates. The English governments had to seek modern ways of overhauling their functions and operations as part of wider reforms that were also occurring throughout European countries. It was an era that saw the creation of various reforms that the government aimed to improve its inmates’ welfare.

The first significant reform occurred after WWII, and it was based on the Criminal Justice Act 1948 (, 2020). The role of this act focused majorly on improving the welfare of inmates, especially after years of being thrown down the pecking order of the English social community. The act abolished prison issues such as hard labor, flogging, and penal servitude. It was a long-awaited moment because the act’s passage started in the late 1930s, yet its passing occurred late in the 1940s. The passing of this law was important because it focused on dealing with adult convicts, children, and women. While the law featured various provisions that aimed at improving the welfare of inmates, it was still a revolutionary moment in the penal system of English countries. The provision dealt with a few significant issues that are worth consideration. A good example would be that the law dealt with various aspects that involved different aspects of prison management. The first one is abolishing corporal punishment, which included activities such as whipping, which could no longer run as judicial punishments. However, the court still recommended the punishment for criminal acts, such as striking a police officer. The passing of this act also focused on preventive detention. Specifically, the act of 1908 in which the Prevention detention law functioned went through a repeal (Newman, 2021). The preventative detention measure is an initiative on criminals to serve an additional time in a designated prison. The newer version of this act ensured that the sentence was applicable to habitual inmates above the age of 30.

The reform also focused on corrective training. It involved a novel sentence type of inmates above the age of twenty-one who experienced the state considered to have an extensive criminal portfolio. The goal of this corrective approach was to apply to reforming criminals and improve recidivism levels in the community. The specific term for this prison sentence was between two and four years. The entity that maintained the power to release inmates early was the Home Secretary and the Prison Commission (Morphet, 2021). Choosing the ideal applicant for the corrective training jail program would also have to go through a deliberative process. However, the court was often quick to deny specific recommendations because most candidates had only gone through basic examination procedures. Once the prison received a corrective training applicant certification, they were set to an Allocation Center, which featured two mental health specialists. The psychologists had to take the inmate through a rigorous mental evaluation process, with a significant focus on evaluating the best path for helping them to recuperate. Once the inmate went through this process, the jail would recommend the state to send the inmate to one of four dentition institutions. These include an open prison, a training center, a security prison, or a semi-open institution. The corrective training programs aimed to empower inmates with specific life and social skills that would help reduce their propensity for engaging in criminal activities.

The treatment of women was the other significant change that occurred with the passing of this act in various English countries. Specifically, the UK government started to send inmates to major prison facilities to help control the environmental quality they would access (Meek, Woodall, and Maycock, 2020). The jail facilities that inmates would go to would be Askham Grange or Hollow Way Prison. However, the conditions women received in the Holloway prisons were not necessarily high quality. Instead, the living conditions for women in these prisons were drab due to various social reasons. The reason was that the female gender was mostly considered a marginalized social group. However, the conditions in the Askham Grange were different because it was an attractive place to live, but the atmosphere in the jail was far from relaxed. The women lived in small rooms, and the staff also had poor working conditions.

The other major reform in the prison system was passing the Murder Abolition of Death Penalty Act of 1965 (Cornwell, 2021). Specifically, a parliament act stopped the death penalty for murder crimes in English Countries. The act the state used as a replacement for imprisonment for life or a mandatory death sentence. The state created this act to replace the Homicide Act 1957, which was already successful in reducing prison death cases. The act was passed in 1965m by a private member bill named Sydney Silverman. It was an act that offered charges of capital murder and should have received the same treatment as simple murder. It also stipulated that all death sentences were converted into life imprisonment incarceration sentences. An essential aspect of this law was that it featured a sunset clause. Specifically, the clause stated that his act would expire automatically in July 1979 unless the state would provide prescriptions to stop such a feat (Menis, 2019). However, the government would later on in favor of the bill, thereby making it permanent in late 1969. Based on the stipulations of this act, no exections have occurred in the country since this act came to fruition. The last incarcerations occurred in 1964. However, this law did not apply to other secondary regions, such as Northern Ireland, which have affiliations with the United Kingdom government.

In the 1990s, there was a significant change in the country’s penal system. Specifically, the English took a punitive approach to handle crime and justice initiatives. The prison works movement started to receive a significant influence from entities such as the Labor and Conservative governments. The result was the country experienced a substantial increase in inmates. Furthermore, market reforms came up during this time as part of large-scale prison reform measures. The state started introducing prison systems that would run under private companies’ financial and oversight management.

In the 1990s, there was a political turn favoring a more punitive approach to crime and justice. The ‘prison works’ movement was embraced by both Conservative and Labour governments and resulted in a steady rise in the numbers of people behind bars. At the same time, prison market reforms were introduced into the justice system. The new law allowed for private entities to design, finance, and build prison facilities in English countries. In 1990, the Major administration introduced the concept of prison privatization to help reduce costs and to help combat the ever-increasing number of criminals. However, the restriction for this experiment was that it would only apply to new facilities. The condition was that the success of such an initiative would only work when the state considered to contact specific aspects of is criminal justice functions. One of the main constitutional elements that helped with the progression of this initiative was the Criminal Justice Bill 1990.

The role of this bill was to enable the Home Secretary to have the ability to privatize prisons in the country. During the proposal of this constitutional law, a Conservative political also recommended extending this feat to address inmates that the state had just sentenced to new prisons. The enacting of this bill occurred in 1991, and it allowed for any entity-approved entity to engage in the management of remand centers. While this initiative started as an experiment, it soon become an essential aspect of the government’s activities (Edwards and Allen, 2021). By 1994, various other prison facilities had opened in the country and received approval from the Home Secretary. In all these instances, the involvement of the private sector had a limitation on short-term contracts, and the government was the only part that could own prison buildings. In late 1992, the Conservative government developed a bill that would focus on improving private entities’ participation in public services. Based on this act, all new prison facilities could run based on the participation of private entities and on a contract that the state had given approval. The initial private prisons in the country were Blakehurst and Wolds, which paved the way for the development of many other similar entities. The Home Secretary at the time also noted that using marketing testing techniques on prions would help encourage the development of relevant prion reforms. The labor party also made a solid opposition to policy reforms, with many claiming that it was not appropriate for entities to profit out of the prison system. According to the opposition, it was a setting where a free market could no longer survive. The opposition, who was the shadow Home Secretary, Jack Straw, believed that restoring control in the hands of the public sector was a crucial initiative. Surprisingly, his party changed perspective once Jack Straw got into power, leading to the approval of countless private prisons in the country. The perspective of the opposition part was that private prisons would positively impact market testing, which was crucial in maintaining the value offered by detention facilities.

The prison system in the 2000s also experienced a significant shift. Even though the prison numbers have leveled off during this period, various issues have led to prison management complications. The common types include cuts to budgets, and the lack of proper measures to address issues such as overcrowding has led to record-breaking numbers of prison violence. The budget cuts have occurred mainly due to the increasing GDP levels the UK has been experiencing in recent years. Many other European prison systems were also implementing such changes as part of reinventing strategies (Martínez-Ariño and Zwilling, 2020). However, the other stumbling block to these budget cut initiatives’ success is the ever-increasing rates of crime in the country. It means that the courts and law enforcement agents also have to find ways of handling the increasing number of incarcerated individuals, which causes a considerable budget strain. The other notable issue would be the state’s failure to private the probation service, which has been a significant stumbling block in marketizing the criminal justice system.

There has also been a significant evolution in the juvenile justice system. Specifically, from 1981 to 1990, the number of juveniles who have gone to courts in the English region has reduced by up to 605 percent. Additionally, the number of inmates that the prison sent to custody was reduced by over 74%. One of the main reasons for such an occurrence is because of the increased leniency levels when it comes to handling juvenile offenders. Looking back at the history of juvenile incarcerations in the country is essential to have a much better perspective on the issue. Since the early 1900s, juvenile inmate regulations and policies in the English regions have comprised varying ideas or perspectives. Usually, this discrepancy in ideas is due to the ideas that the proponents and opponents of prison reform systems have to share. Most of the ideas the English have maintained on prison reform have featured varied views on why juveniles engage in crime and the recommended approaches for addressing such issues. Usually, most techniques focusing on juvenile reform have focused on the need to maintain punishments and encourage discipline in teens through various techniques. These techniques include training, hard work, physical activity, and education. During the 1960s, a significant shift occurred in the prison system. Specifically, the importance of standardized responses to juveniles started to become weak, primarily because of the poor structures in the various intuitions that were already running. It led to the development of the Children and Young Persons Act of 1969, which brought up intermediate treatment, which involved a unique perspective on punishing juvenile inmates. The law shifted from alternative residential care and prison custody in which the detention periods of the inmate would occur under the oversight of a social worker. The primary focus of this approach was on the systems approach that stressed the importance of changing the focus of young individuals from the criminal justice interventions that surpass the minimum necessary responsive actions for such issues. The 1980s also presented a significant shift in the juvenile system and the welfare of its inmates.

Specifically, in 1982, the new Criminal Justice Act introduced strict regulations for implementing prison sentences for inmates. The role of this regulation would help to reduce the ever-increasing rates of criminals arrested by the state. In 1985 and the early 1990s, the state considered using a different approach to handling juveniles (, 2019). The government recommended that police officers caution juvenile offenders, rather than focusing on prosecution initiatives alone. Due to the state’s measures, juvenile incarceration levels in the 1980s decreased by over 60% (, 2019). The significant reduction in incarcerated juveniles was partly due to the abolition of custodial sentences and care orders. The main reason for this process was that the most effective approach to handling juvenile offenders involved imposing the least amount of punitive action required to keep them from becoming repeat offenders.

The prison system in English countries has changed significantly over the past six to seven decades, with most reforms focusing on inmates’ welfare. The most notable aspect of the reforms that have occurred in recent years has involved passing several bills. Most of these bills have targeted specific shortcomings of criminal justice, but there are still some major stumbling blocks to consider. Common examples include overcrowding and significant budget cuts that the state has recommended for running prisons. It is a stark reminder of the major upheavals the prison system must undergo before becoming a successful entity.


Cornwell, D., 2021. Prisons, Politics and Practices in England and Wales 1945-2020: The Operational Management Issues. Springer Nature.

Edwards, I. and Allen, M., 2021. Criminal law. Oxford University Press.

Martínez-Ariño, J. and Zwilling, A., 2020. Religion and Prison: An Overview of Contemporary Europe. Springer Nature.

Meek, R., Woodall, J., and Maycock, M., 2020. Issues and Innovations in Prison Health Research: Methods, Issues, and Innovations. Springer Nature.

Menis, S., 2019. A History of Women’s Prisons in England: The Myth of Prisoner Reformation. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Muncie, J., 2021. Youth & Crime. SAGE.

Morphet, J., 2021. Outsourcing in the UK: Policies, Practices, and Outcomes. Bristol: Bristol University Press.

Newman, G., 2021. Civilization and Barbarism: Punishing Criminals in the Twenty-First Century. [S.l.]: STATE UNIV OF NEW YORK PR., 2019. SHORT HISTORY OF JUVENILE JUSTICE IN ENGLAND AND WALES | Office of Justice Programs. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 July 2022]., 2020. Reforming prisons, reforming prisoners. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 9 July 2022].


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