If short prison sentences are scrapped under Government plans then thousands of repeat offenders will walk free every year, a report claims.
The report’s authors claim getting rid of sentences of six months or less risks ‘unleashing a crime wave’.
Last week Justice Secretary David Gauke said there is a ‘very strong case’ for scrapping short sentences – except for violent and sexual crimes.
It is hoped scrapping short sentences would lower rates of re-offending (Picture: PA)Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has backed the idea, which is being explored as part of efforts to reduce the prison population and drive down re-offending.
But a study from think-tank Civitas claims that getting rid of those jail terms would create ‘an amnesty for prolific thieves and burglars’ and leave people at risk of more crime.
Around 34,000 offenders who were jailed in 2017 would not be given jail terms under the proposed new regime, according to the study.
That includes thieves, burglars, drink-drivers, fraudsters, and individuals caught with knives or drugs.
Analysis of sentencing data suggests the vast majority of criminals spared jail would be repeat offenders, the Civitas report claims.
Last month, Mr Stewart said imprisoning someone for a few weeks means they ‘lose their house, their job, their family, their reputation’ and meet ‘a lot of interesting characters’ while behind bars.
Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has backed the plan to scrap sentences of six months or less (Picture: PA)It would be better if they were given a ‘good community sentence’, he said.
The Civitas report, written by Peter Cuthbertson, founder of the Centre for Crime Prevention, says: ‘If Rory Stewart is wrong, the consequences for public safety could be enormous, with the Government unleashing a crime wave on hundreds of thousands of citizens.
‘In reality, his own department’s data makes clear that it would mean tens of thousands more hardened criminals avoiding prison.
‘The Government must now consider the evidence, rather than proceed any further with plans for an effective amnesty for burglars, shoplifters and other prolific criminals.’
What would the sentence reforms do?
The report claims that, if they are introduced, the prison reforms would:
Lead to the ‘effective decriminalisation’ of shoplifting, with the percentage of offenders given custodial sentences for the crime falling below 1%
Mean a ‘far more lenient’ approach to burglars, with over half avoiding jail
Effectively remove the threat of prison for any kind of drug possession
And result in an ‘even more lax approach’ to driving under the influence of drink or drugs
Mr Gauke’s vision for ‘smart justice’ was unveiled last week.
It included short jail terms being replaced by ‘robust’ community orders.
The Justice Secretary said figures showed that over a quarter of all re-offending is committed by people who have served sentences of 12 months or less.
A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman said: ‘It would be wrong to spend taxpayers’ money doing what we know doesn’t work – and the evidence is clear that short sentences often do more harm than good.
Justice Secretary David Gauke’s vision for ‘smart justice’ was unveiled last week (Picture: Reuters)‘They fail to rehabilitate many offenders and lead to high rates of reoffending, which actually makes us less safe and more likely to be a victim of crime.
‘That is why we are exploring more stringent and enforceable community sentences – but this work is ongoing and we’ve reached no conclusions at this time.’
Burglary, drug possession and possession of a knife offences are triable ‘either way’ – meaning they can be tried at either the Crown Court or a magistrates’ court- and will therefore still attract custody where a longer sentence is merited, the ministry noted.
It added that an MoJ study published in 2015 found that custodial sentences of under 12 months were associated with higher levels of re-offending than sentences given to similar offenders that were served in the community.