The statement the Lord Chancellor to Parliament last Monday clearly indicated that he believed that sentences were too lenient or inappropriate.
He indicated that space for the longer prison sentences for more serious offences will be made available by no longer imprisoning minor offenders for short sentences.
I am not opposed to reform and I acknowledge the fact that short sentences have proved unsuccessful, and often make for a higher rate of reoffending. I hope however, that when more space is delivered by our largest prison building programme since Victorian times, he will consider that part of the answer to the problem of short sentences is to make them longer.
Because prison works – do not underestimate the relief to a whole neighbourhood had by removing persistent minor offenders can have.
They say fish Rots from the head down, so let’s start with the head – the capital crime: murder. The law shows its contempt for the sanctity of life by the leniency with which it treats those who take life.
On three occasions in Parliament I’ve taken the opportunity to vote for the restoration of the death penalty. My demand for justice would have been assuaged however, if the mandatory life sentence meant life -or at least some greater approximation to it- but of over 7000 murderers currently in prison, less than 1% have a whole life tariff. Typically, they only serve between only 11 and 16 years.
Moving on to Rape, the requirement that rapists serve at least two thirds of their sentences was reduced to only a half in 2003 – needless to say, I voted against the measure. Of the tiny proportion of reported rapes that finally make it through to a conviction, in 2022 twenty rapists received sentences of less than 5 years, some less than 2 years.
The scandal is that nearly a fifth of all sex offenders reoffend within one year of their release.
We are living through an epidemic of Knife Crime, and despite bill after bill in Parliament giving the courts greater sentencing powers, repeat offenders for possession continue to avoid custodial sentences. Taking violent crime as a whole, in the year to 2021 sentences fell by a quarter – down by 19 months.
Moving on to burglary, unbelievably the average Burglar will have been convicted for up to 27 offences before being jailed.
And when any custodial sentence actually is handed down, however rare, we go through the charade of the judge specifying a term, and everyone else in court calculating on the back of a fag packet how long it will actually be, because they all know that most prisoners serve less than half their term.
So Let’s jump down to the tail, to those crimes that make the lives of neighbours and neighbourhoods a misery: the anti-social louts, the vandals, the shop-lifters, the benefits cheats, the fly-tippers, the fraudsters: none of whom will see the inside of a prison cell, for them it’s ‘community punishments’
The Lord Chancellor said that he was going to ensure public confidence with a robust regime for community punishments. Well he would need to, because last year I asked in Parliament
“It is reported that community punishments can be discharged by working from home. Please tell me that isn’t true. “
The policing minister replied that although they would reduce the proportion of sentences that could be worked from home, they would retain them for ‘those unable to manage a brush and shovel’.
Leniency is measured by the public frustration that justice is not being seen to be done.
Let’s bring back penal servitude with hard labour!