It's all the fault of probation officers, of course
Today's Guardian reports that the Prison Governors Association are blaming the unsustainably large number of prisoners on two things: the inexorable rise of the indeterminate sentence for public protection, and prisoners being recalled to custody for breaching their licences. You don't have to be as paranoid and hassled as I am to spot the implication: it's those bloody wishy-washy liberals in the probation offices, who've suddenly decided to get steel toecaps for their sandals and get tough.
The point about licences being breached is old hat, really, and pretty vague with it. Yes, prisoners are recalled to prison for breaching terms of their licences - and isn't that what's supposed to happen? I'm told that Inside Time, the magazine written by and for prisoners, regularly carries stories of prisoners having been recalled for being a few minutes late for their appointments. I very much doubt if this is much more than an urban myth - recalls happen when appointments have been missed completely and earlier warnings have not been heeded, or when further offences have been committed, or when there are good grounds to believe that the risk of harm to others is increasing, not just because someone arrives half an hour after their allotted time. But of course we're now being criticised for over-enthusiastically enforcing orders and licences!
I think the point about IPP sentences is a valid one, though I do object to the article's assertion that these are being passed without "proper risk assessment" - they almost always are based on risk assessments which are called pre-sentence reports... But again the blame is being placed on the wrong people. A judge is required to pass a sentence of imprisonment for public protection if the offence is on a list of "serious specified offences" and he or she considers the offender to pose a serious risk of harm to the public. If that offender has a previous conviction for a specified offence (a wider definition but also including the serious specified offences), then the judge must presume that they do pose a risk, unless it would be unreasonable to presume otherwise. I've written reports in cases where it's been very clear that the judge has carefully considered all factors before making a decision, but in reality they are extremely constrained in terms of what sentences they can or cannot pass.