12th April 2016

Is Britain’s Crime System becoming Punitive?

The Financial Times report that Britain’s justice system is becoming more punitive as there is a sharp rise in jail sentences despite the actual level of crime and subsequent convictions falling. In 2014-15 Crime has been recorded to have dropped by 32 per cent to 3.8 million in England and Wales with the number of people being convicted also falling to 17 per cent. 

However, according to the Centre of Crime and Justice Studies, there was a 24 per cent rise in the number of prison sentences in those same years. It has also been reported that longer prison sentences have been given, from 12.4 to 16.4 months while prison numbers have grown to approximately 100,000. 

Richard Gartside, director of the centre said: “It is a shrinking justice system that is becoming more punitive. Over the past decade, the police have recorded fewer crimes, and the courts have prosecuted and convicted fewer defendants. But those who are found guilty are more likely to get a prison sentence, and for ever longer periods of time.”

Andy Cash, Director and Criminal Solicitor with Cartwright King Solicitors commented:

“These figures will come as no surprise to criminal practitioners but hide a number of troubling issues;

The use by Police forces of changing methods of crime recording to produce “reductions”. There have long been concerns about how certain crimes are recorded, for example, assaults being treated as public order cases or thefts as “lost property”.

The increased use of out of court disposals; fixed penalties and cautions rather than charges. This leads to reduced court disposals but raises the real prospect of people accepting a disposal in cases where they have not done anything wrong and should be taking cases to trial.

The continued and growing use of short sentences as part of the sentencing regime. There is considerable evidence to show that short sentences do not result in reduced offending, just the reverse. For example breaching a post release supervision order invariably involves returning the defendant to custody for 14 days. Simply to remind him or her to keep their next Probation appointment?

Significant increases in sentencing for serious offences which seem to be a response to public ire rather than any indication of benefit to society or generally.

In the USA it is still possible for sentences of imprisonment to be passed of 999 years. We are moving that way without apparent or sufficient debate.”  

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