EJI Director Speaks in England About Perils of Mass Incarceration


In an address to the Prison Reform Trust in London on December 8, 2008, EJI Director Bryan Stevenson warned that building American-style prisons to warehouse thousands of prisoners could fatally undermine the British justice system’s ability to cut crime by reforming offenders and instead set England and Wales on a fast-track to a damaging and discredited prison system.

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. The increase in the jail and prison population from 200,000 to more than 2.3 million in the past 30 years has lead to unprecedented prison overcrowding and put tremendous strain on state budgets.

Incarcerating petty offenders, children, the mentally ill and addicts in need of treatment is the main cause of the American system’s current problems — and the UK’s fast-rising prison population.

Britain plans to build three giant “Titan” prison complexes in the next six years, which collectively would house 7500 prisoners. Mr. Stevenson warned that these costly prison warehouses will undermine efforts to rehabilitate offenders and lead the UK towards a failed American-style justice system.

“This is a time when fear and anger about crime and security is very high, which is why our thinking about crime policy has to be sober, sensible and effective,” Mr. Stevenson said. “The US has made serious mistakes with its criminal justice policy over the last 35 years. The UK should learn from these mistakes, reject the idea of Titan prisons and pursue cost-effective, humane and responsible strategies that avoid mass incarceration.”

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said, “It is shaming enough to be the greatest incarcerator in western Europe without slavishly copying America’s failing prison system.”