County councillors want to see fewer people being sent to prison for minor offences.

They argue that prisons are the “university of crime” and want to see a restorative system for short-term sentences.

Prisons such as Winchester are overcrowded and numerous inspection reports have highlighted their chronic violence and lack of rehabilitation for offenders.

The county council is sending a letter to the Police and Crime Commissioner, Donna Jones, to lobby the central government, while the Leader of the Council will write to the Home Office.

During the Hampshire 2050 Corporate Services and Resources Select Committee (November 30), committee members debated the efficiency and the impact of sending a new offender to prison with short sentences.

READ MORE: Police relaunch appeal for identity of man found dead in barn in 2017

Cllr Peter Latham pointed out that prisons should be the last resource for short-term offenders as they are the “worst place” for them.

Cllr Latham said: “Prisons are overcrowded with too many prisoners on short-term sentences. It is probably the worst place for prisoners on that basis. There should be restorative justice and community penalties to prevent people from reoffending.

Hampshire Chronicle:

“Recently, it is being dictated to judges and magistrates to ensure they use prisons as a last resort to ensure prisons are used for long sentences rather than short sentences because the best way to prevent people from reoffending is restorative justice, and so is within the community to try to rehabilitate offenders.”

Cllr Adrian Collett added that prisons are the "university of crime" where low-profile offenders learn how to become high-level criminals.

SEE MORE: Winchester hospital A&E unit set to close under NHS restructuring plans

Cllr Collett said: “A conversation I had with a superintendent about the role of the prison, he said that prisons have three purposes. One is obviously punishment, the second is to protect society from dangerous people, but the third is the one that, as a society, we fail; that is the restorative side.

“If someone is in prison, it is our chance to retackle issues, that with no excuse for what they did, for may prevent them from doing it again.

“This won’t solve everything but certainly can solve a lot. What we actually have in our prison system is that our prisons are universities of crime. Once someone is in there, they will meet all sorts of people involved in serious crimes who know how to do it better. Do you really want low-level offenders to learn how to become high-level offenders in the future?”

In line with Cllr Latham and Cllr Collett, Cllr Alex Crawford highlighted that the narrative about the inefficiency of short-term sentences had not changed in the last 20 years.

Cllr Crawford said: “Twenty-one years ago, I visited the governor of Winchester prison, and he said exactly the same about this point: “It is not good you send all these people here for six months because in six months we can’t do anything with them. For longer-term offenders, we can get them enrolled in programs, but in six months, no”. There is a need to give more power to probation services to deal with these lower offenders.”

Chairman Councillor Jonathan Glen proposed sending a letter to the PCC, Donna Jones, to make her aware of the committee’s position on rehabilitation and restorative measures.

Cllr Glen said: “We don’t have much power here to change the system but to influence the Crime Commissioner. We have a passionate debate here; we shouldn’t leave it here waiting to see what happens next. We have the authority to write the PCC. I would like her to understand this is an issue in our mind.”

Cllr Collet, who supported Cllr Glen’s initiative, added that the PCC, in her role, must be lobbying the government, and she “should be asking people to do things to try to put pressure on, and the evidence she can use is this letter.”

Leader of the county council, Rob Humby, also proposed that, in line with the committee, a joining letter could be sent to the Home Office secretary and the Minister in this regard.