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Prison Sentences Under Six Months to be Scrapped

Prison Sentences Under Six Months to be Scrapped

community sentenances

Minister for Prisons Rory Stewart has announced that prison sentences of less than six months are to be scrapped in favour of community sentences. Mr Stewart said those individuals sent to prison for short periods were more likely to re-offend than those given community sentences.

He said:

“You bring somebody in for three or four weeks, they lose their house, their job, their family, their reputation. They come (into prison), they meet a lot of interesting characters to put it politely, and then you whap them on to the streets again. The public are safer if we have a good community sentence – and it will relieve a lot of pressure on prisons.”

The move would be modelled on Scotland, which has a similar bar on sentences under three months and which is extending this to 12 months. Liberal Democrats in Scotland have been pushing for proposals to extend the current presumption against three-month sentences. The party’s justice spokesman Liam McArthur, pointing to Scottish Prison Service figures showing that 1,022 prisoners spent last Christmas in jail on short sentences, said: “Rather than being given short spells in prison, such offenders would be better serving tough, community-based sentences.”

Judges lose faith in community sentencing

Mr Stewart’s announcement on prison sentences comes in the wake of a report from the Centre for Justice Innovation (CJI) released at the end of 2018 which said a breakdown in trust between judges, magistrates and the probation service had led to a sharp fall in the use of community sentences.

Phil Bowen, director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, said:

“We found that while sentencers still see community sentences as a vital option, their trust in probation’s ability to deliver them has been dented by poorly-implemented reforms and the cuts to the justice budget that have happened over the past six years.”

The CJI noted moves by former justice minister Chris Grayling to privatise the probation service meant offenders could not be properly monitored and few judges could witness the progress of, and compliance with, court orders.

Prisons minister Rory Stewart told MPs on the Commons justice select committee: “We need to restore the faith of the judiciary in community sentences and encourage them to make use of community sentences.”

John Bache, the national chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, wrote to the Times to concur with the minister’s view on community sentences. Mr Bache said one way to restore confidence would be to enable magistrates to review the progress made by offenders subject to such orders. He points out that legislation to allow this to happen “has been in place since 2003 but, alas, is yet to be enacted.”

Deport foreign offenders to ease overcrowding, says minister

The prisons minister has also suggested that foreign offenders should be deported rather than jailed in Britain to ease overcrowding in UK prisons. About one-tenth of prisoners in the UK are foreign nationals.

“One option, which of course is available to the police and could potentially be expanded, is to say that if a foreign national commits an offence in Britain they are simply deported”, Mr Stewart said.

The public would have to decide whether it was comfortable with the idea of foreigners simply being pushed out of the country, he added.

Prisoners given photobooth

A report by HM Inspectorate of Prisons into privately-run HMP Lowdham Grange in Nottinghamshire shows that prison bosses have installed a photobooth so prisoners can take pictures with their partners and children during visits as part of their rehabilitation.

MP Philip Davies, a former member of the Commons’ justice select committee, criticised the perk, saying: “Unfortunately the problem is that no-one in the Ministry of Justice believes that prisons should be places of punishment anymore.”

The Ministry of Justice has cited research that shows those who receive family visits are 39% less likely to re-offend.

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