Tens of thousands of repeat offenders to be spared jail under government plans
Government plans to put an end to short prison sentences will mean about 30,000 repeat offenders will be spared jail every year, a new Civitas analysis shows.
The proposals will result in non-custodial sentences for about 34,000 offenders who would currently receive prison terms of less than six months. They include thieves, burglars, drink-drivers and those caught in possession of knives and drugs.
No more than about 4,000 of these are first-time offenders, meaning at least about 30,000 of the short prison terms that are being abolished are for repeat offenders.
The findings raise serious questions about the implications for public safety of failing to keep so many repeat offenders off the streets, even for relatively short periods of time.
The report’s author, Peter Cuthbertson, writes:
‘Rory Stewart claims that ending sentences below six months would help respectable people to hold on to their jobs and reputations. In reality, his own department’s data makes clear that it would mean tens of thousands more hardened criminals avoiding prison.
‘It would mean far more victims of burglary and shoplifting, drink driving and knife crime. The government must now consider the evidence, rather than proceed any further with plans for an effective amnesty for burglars, shoplifters and other prolific criminals.’
The paper describes how the sentencing reforms – which would end prison sentences of less than six months for all but violent and sexual offenders – would:
- Mean non-custodial sentences for 83% of those caught in possession of a knife, up from 70%.
- Allow 58% of burglars to avoid prison, up from 44% presently.
- Cause custodial sentences for shoplifting to fall from 21% of offences to less than 1%.
- Effectively remove the threat of prison for any kind of drug possession (a charge often used by police against drug dealers when more substantive charges seem unlikely to stick).
- Reduce the number of drink and drug drivers sent to prison from one in 50 to one in 2000.
In addition, Cuthbertson describes how the reforms will also fail to keep many violent and sexual offenders off the streets because it is usually the same individuals who are responsible for the offences are that are to be dealt with more leniently.
‘The courts following an extremely misguided understanding of who is committing violent and sex offences,’ Cuthbertson writes.
‘While the government implies that its policy will be tough on those committing these offences, in fact it is overwhelmingly the same criminals committing all types of offence. Burglars avoiding prison means violent offenders avoiding prison because it is the same criminals doing both.’
Ending Short Prison Sentences: An amnesty for prolific thieves and burglars?
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