So, short prison sentences are back in the news again. Justice Minister, David Gauke was asked by the Justice Select Committee whether ministers should consider scrapping sentences of less than a year to combat “grave and worsening” safety in jails.
“Yes, we are considering our options here. This is a complex matter…I completely agree that reducing short sentences needs to be viewed in the context of improving the alternatives.”
Short prison sentences can do more harm than good
In February, Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart said that prison sentences of less than six months should be abolished in England and Wales, as they are less effective at reducing the rate of reoffending than community penalties. He argued that removing sentences of less than six months would ease pressure on prisons and that short sentences can do more harm than good,
“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 onto the streets again. The public are safer if we have a good community sentence – and it will relieve a lot of pressure on prisons.”
According to statistics, almost two thirds of prisoners who are released after serving less than 12-month sentences reoffend within a year.
Official figures show a reduction in the level of crime over last 25 years (over 19m offences recorded in 1994 to 10.7m in 2018). Meanwhile, the prison population more than doubled in the same period. As a nation, we imprison a higher proportion of our population than all other western European countries.
Effectiveness of short prison sentences
Supporters of short sentences argue that they provide a short sharp shock deterrent. However, opponents argue that they offer little time for rehabilitation.
In the words of Prisons Minister Rory Stewart, short sentences are ‘long enough to damage you and not long enough to heal you’. Additionally, a short prison sentence can cause significant disruption to the offender’s life, such as future employability.
Opponents of short sentences favour robust community sentences aimed at rehabilitation as well as punishment, particularly for younger offenders. Moreover, community sentences have a reduced reoffending rate. However, a reduction in community sentencing was noted in a 2018 report from the Centre of Justice Innovation, which identified a breakdown in trust between magistrates and the probation services as its cause.
Wells Burcombe defence expertise
For anyone accused of a crime, the prospect of a prison sentence is of course a major concern. Our expert defence lawyers will work with you to clear you of charges or to ensure that you receive a fair sentence, where all mitigating factors are taken into account. We will identify the strengths and weaknesses of your case and advise you of the pros and cons of pleading guilty or not guilty, taking both the law and your individual circumstances into account.
For information on sentencing, or to discuss a specific case with a specialist defence lawyer, please contact Wells Burcombe in London (West Drayton) on 01895 449288 or in Hertfordshire (St Albans) on 01727 840900 or by email via our contact page.