Abstract for: How Do “Short Sharp Shock” Punishments Affect the Prison Population? A System Dynamics Study of the London Riot Sentences

UK prisons have been overcrowded for over 15 years, and the prison population continues to rise at a faster rate than prison capacity. The rising prison population has been attributed to harsher sentencing rather than a real increase in crime. Yet calls for “short sharp shocks” for offender groups, continue to be made without reference to prison capacity. The London rioters are one of these offender groups and are used here as a case study. Though the numbers of rioters facing prison are a small fraction of the prison population we are interested in how the punishment of the rioter’s will affect the prison system as a whole. We analyse the pathways of the rioters using a system dynamics model designed to provide a dynamic hypothesis for the growth of the UK prison population. The paper considers non-linear dynamic feedbacks related to the certainty and severity of punishment, and the problems of rehabilitation implementation caused by capacity constraints.