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Reducing punishment will increase crime

David Green, 4 October 2004

According to the Sunday Times, the police are shortly going to be encouraged to give offenders who steal goods up to £200 a fixed-penalty notice, similar to a parking ticket. It means that shoplifters and other thieves will be able to ply their trade without getting a criminal record.
Past experience of downgrading punishments should serve as a warning. The Criminal Justice Act of 1988 downgraded unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle to a non-indictable offence, encouraging courts to use non-custodial sentences. The result was that 30% more people had their cars stolen. In 1987 there were 20 thefts per 1,000 population. By 1990 there were 20% more and by 1993, over 30% more (26.2 per 1,000). The number of thefts only started to fall when the Government increased the use of imprisonment from 1993 onwards.


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