What sort of people are being attracted to the bench?

Increased sentencing powers should not be seen as a morale-boosting tool for the magistracy, writes Jonathan Black.

Just as I was thinking about going to sleep last night, news broke on my Twitter feed of a fatal stabbing, and two others serious injuries, at HMP Pentonville. Alarming as it was, it came as no surprise.

A BBC news item from last week featured the frequency with which drones were used to pass contraband into prison; we know of deteriorating conditions in the Victorian institution that holds 1,200 adults; and at the Prison Governors Association conference last week it was said that ‘safety standards in prisons had declined since the introduction of “benchmarking” – a programme to drive down costs by reducing staffing and simplifying the prison regime’. Add to that the ingredient of prison overcrowding and you have the recipe for these types of incident.