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Call to ban magistrates from sending minor offenders to jail

Resource type: News

The Daily Telegraph (London) |

by Christopher Hope MAGISTRATES should be banned from handing out custodial sentences for non-violent minor offences, a report says today. The study says Britain’s jails are full to bursting because too many offenders are being sent to prison for lesser offences like burglary. The report from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London says that the burgeoning prison population is not because more offences are brought to justice. Rather, more offenders are being locked away for longer. It says magistrates should not be able to jail someone for a non-violent minor offence. It comes after judges’ sentencing advisers suggested that people should not go to jail for less than 12 months. The report said: “The prison sink is filling up because the flow from the courts has been increased and the flow out through parole and early release has been reduced. “Immediate action could be taken to limit magistrates’ powers to use custody for non-violent summary offences more strictly, and specifically to discourage sentencers from using custody for theft and handling.” Professor Carol Hedderman, the author of the report and a former assistant director of research in the Home Office, said: “There is little sign that, overall, the courts are dealing with more serious cases now than they were in the mid 1990s. “They are simply responding more punitively. “The biggest single change in sentencing behaviour concerns the number and the length of custodial sentences for less serious property offences and other cases.” The report said magistrates’ powers to send offenders to jail should be limited in order to keep a lid on the prison population, which surged through 83,000 last month. The report, Building on sand: Why expanding the prison estate is not the way to ‘secure the future’, also criticised plans to build three new super-jails housing thousands of inmates. Professor Hedderman said: ‘The current public debate on the use of prison is sterile. The moment you query why the prison population is going up you risk being branded as being soft on crime and putting prisoners’ interests before that of the public. “The Government makes statements about reserving prison for the serious and dangerous but the figures tell a different story.” “We also need to ask just how much this rise in imprisonment is costing us and whether it represents good value for money.”

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