Sunday, 19 June 2011


This cartoon will be a close reflection and sad indictment of the British Judicial system if the latest crackpot proposal from the Ministry of Justice is agreed.

Thousands of criminals who plead guilty will have their jail terms halved under government sentencing plans, although rapists and paedophiles are to be excluded.
The Ministry of Justice was forced to toughen up its plans after an outcry over initial proposals which indicated that all those pleading guilty could be considered for a 50 per cent reduction in their jail terms. David Cameron has already ordered Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, to rule out sentence reductions for rapists, and the Ministry of Justice has declared that paedophiles would also be barred from taking advantage of the new rules.

Downing Street is finalising the revised policy and the Prime Minister is expected to begin an offensive in the coming days to dispel accusations that the Coalition is soft on crime. But the guidance on sentencing is still likely to mean more criminals are able to escape with shorter jail terms. Back-bench Tories are urging Mr Cameron to show he is mindful of concerns about the party’s image on law and order by ruling out reduced sentences to all but a small number.

Thousands of serious criminals will be entitled to lower sentences if they plead guilty, with a discount of as much as 50 per cent instead of the current third.

The latest Ministry of Justice figures show that in December last year, of nearly 85,000 offenders in jail, 7,875 were serving sentences of 12 months or less. A total of 28,427 criminals had been handed sentences of less than four years in jail.

Figures released this week also show that the number of offenders being sent back to prison each year more than quadrupled last year from the number in 2000. More than 100,000 offenders, including killers, rapists and sex offenders, have been freed from jail only to be recalled after breaching the terms of their release over the past decade, the statistics disclose.

Last month, MoJ data indicated that criminals given longer jail terms were less likely to reoffend than those serving shorter sentences. According to the figures, only a third of offenders given sentences of two to four years go back to crime within a year. By contrast, 43 per cent of those jailed for one to two years go on to reoffend.

According to MOJ figures, 100,190 offenders were given immediate custodial sentences in 2009/10. Of these 70,366 were sentenced to 12 months or less, 23,153 received between 12 months and 4 years and 6,671 received 4 years or more.

Mr Clarke said in April that he favoured increased use of community punishment sentences, providing they are “more punitive, effective and organised”. The idea forms part of his strategy to cut reoffending and reduce the prison population by 3,500 by 2015 from 85,224.

However, Mr Clarke's position looked uncertain earlier this month as the Prime Minister retreated on plans to halve sentences for offenders pleading guilty following an outcry over cutting terms for rapists and violent offenders.

Let us remind ourselves of extracts from the Conservative Manifesto on crime. 

Prisons with a purpose :  In the last three years, 80,000 criminals have been released early from prison because the Labour Government failed to build enough places. We are determined that early release will not be introduced again, so we will redevelop the prison estate and increase capacity as necessary to stop it. Under Labour, the number of foreign criminals in our prisons has more than doubled. We will extend early deportation of foreign national prisoners to reduce further the pressure on our prison population.

Many people feel that sentencing in Britain is dishonest and misleading. So we will introduce a system where the courts can specify minimum and maximum sentences for certain offenders. These prisoners will only be able to leave jail after their minimum sentence is served by having earned their release, not simply by right.
To ensure that we have adequate space to house offenders, our plans for renewal of the prison estate will increase capacity by 5,000 places above Labour’s plans. (Perhaps someone should remind Ken Clarke of this Manifesto item!).

We will scrap Labour’s disastrous policy of early release, and introduce honesty in sentencing. (And we'll replace it with an equally disasterous plan to halve prison sentences for guilty pleas instead!)

Offenders will receive minimum and maximum sentences; there will be no possibility of parole before the minimum has been served, and release before the maximum point will be conditional on the prisoner’s behaviour and progress in prison. (Which all seems somewhat meaningless if pleading guilty halves the sentence!).

The End of Custody Licence scheme is designed to make amends for Labour’s failure to build enough prison places. It led to more than 6,500 violent criminals being released back onto the streets – and at least 665 crimes have allegedly been committed by offenders who should have still been in jail.

Nick Herbert, (then) Shadow Secretary of State for Justice:

"Labour is giving criminals a break. They are releasing thousands of prisoners early and planning to water down sentences. We need punishment that fits the crime, enough prison places to hold all those sentenced by the courts, and a new focus on reforming offenders."
(Hmmm.... and exactly how is the halving of sentences any better?"

A Conservative Government will:

• Scrap the early release scheme and build emergency prison places
• Introduce honesty in sentencing so that convicted criminals serve a minimum sentence handed down to them by the judge
• Ensure sufficient prison capacity to hold all those sentenced by the courts – and reform prison regimes to break the cycle of re-offending
• Double the sentencing powers of magistrates to 12 months and repeal any new restrictions on their ability to hand down suspended sentences

Justice? What Justice is served by halving sentences?
Since the 15th century, Lady Justice has often been depicted wearing a blindfold. The blindfold represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be meted out objectively, without fear or favor, regardless of identity, money, power, or weakness; blind justice and impartiality. By halving sentences, Lady Justice is forced to turn a blind eye to these basic principles, completely ignoring the popular views of the general public.

The public overwhelmingly supports tougher prison sentences for convicted criminals, a major poll has revealed. A report, commissioned by Lord Ashcroft, entitled ‘Crime, Punishment and the People’, is based on a poll of more than 2,000 members of the public, 1,000 victims of crime and 500 police officers.

More than eight out of ten of those surveyed said sentencing is too soft and seven in ten called for life in prison to be much harder for inmates.

In a major blow to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, they also rejected proposals to increase the use of community sentences. Eight out of ten see these as a ‘soft punishment’.

Those polled were also dismissive of attempts to rehabilitate offenders – a centrepiece of Mr Clarke’s proposals.

Six in ten said efforts to turn criminals’ lives around ended up ‘making excuses’ for their crimes and failed to punish them properly.

Lord Ashcroft says: ‘Most people already think the justice system does a bad job at dealing with offenders and preventing reoffending, precisely because it places too little emphasis on punishment and deterrence. The justice system must command the confidence of the public on whose behalf, and at whose expense, it operates. Such confidence is already sparse. Politically, the Conservative Party has the most to lose. A firm approach to law and order has been one of the few consistently positive aspects of the Tory brand.

‘The Conservatives should not need to burnish their law and order credentials, they just need to deliver on them.’

The poll reveals widespread support for short prison sentences, while just one in five said community sentences were a good way to stop re-offending.

Two thirds said prison life should be made harder to deter criminals from committing further crimes. Eighty one per cent said sentencing was ‘too lenient’ while just 2 per cent said it was too harsh.

One anonymous contributor to a focus group, quoted in the report, said of prison life: ‘It’s really cushy. They have TVs in their rooms, PlayStations, a pool table, a big social room where they go and sit.

Worryingly, more than 40 per cent of victims who did not report their crime to the police said they thought no action would be taken.

More than a third said they thought the matter would be ‘too trivial’ for the police.

'For the lowlife who do the burgling and mug old ladies, life in prison is better than life outside'

Mr Clarke has promised a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ to turn offenders away from crime.

Asked whether prison works, just 42 per cent of those polled said that it did. But 69 per cent said the answer was to make life in jail harder.

The Independent had this to say:

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke wants to keep prison for the most serious offenders and cut the number of jail terms under 12 months as part of a "rehabilitation revolution" which would result in thousands of offenders avoiding jail.

A report, by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Governors' Association, said the experiences of prisoners and staff showed "the potential deterrent effect of serving a short prison sentence is lost" for repeat offenders.

Blair Gibbs, head of crime and justice at the Policy Exchange think-tank, said: "This flawed campaign to discredit short sentences ignores the views of magistrates and crime victims who know that short prison terms are sometimes the only option.

"Short prison sentences may not do enough to rehabilitate or even deter serial offenders but that is not a reason to scrap them.

"They do work to prevent crime and give communities some much-needed respite and they certainly work better than most community sentences where a third are not even completed.

"Courts need the option to use short sentences and the big problem that needs fixing is the weak and ineffective community sentences that do not protect the public or stop crime."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "All sentences must punish offenders effectively as well as address the causes of their offending. Prisons need to be places of hard work, not idleness, and both prison and non-custodial sentences need to do much more to address the serious underlying causes of crime such as drug addiction and mental health. The consultation on our proposals for achieving this has closed and we will be publishing our plans shortly."

What about your manifesto promises on crime Prime Minister?

Mr Cameron, in your pre election manifesto, you promised to develop the prison estate and increase prison capacity by 5,000 yet Ken Clarke proposes to reduce capacity by 3,500 with his hair-brained ideas.

You promised to scrap the Labour early release scheme, yet here you are proposing a scheme that will deliver even worse consequences for our communities, releasing recidivist criminals back into our midst serving only a fraction of the sentences imposed.

You promised to introduce honesty in sentencing so that convicted criminals serve a minimum sentence handed down to them by the judge. Please explain how proposals to discount sentences for guilty pleas can possibly achieve this.

You criticised Labour for releasing thousands of prisoners early and watering down sentences. Nick Herbert said "We need punishment that fits the crime, enough prison places to hold all those sentenced by the courts". Where are those promises now??

Exactly how will releasing guilty pleading burglars, car thieves and violent offenders after serving only half their sentences support Theresa May and the police in their bid to reduce

Implementing these proposals will hammer a further nail in the coffin of British justice. Career criminals are already laughing at the system that protects them more than the victim. These proposals, if implemented, will turn that laughter into hysterics.

Judges and magistrates complain bitterly that they are hamstrung by sentencing guidelines that prevent them imposing sentences that adequately fit the crime. It has become a rarity to see minimum sentences dished out let alone maximum penalties that the voting public would advocate. Now you propose halving any sentences actually imposed, rendering our justic system a complete laughing stock in the eyes of the criminal fratenrnity.

Releasing thousands of offenders after having served only half a sentence send out completely the wrong signal - that crime pays after all. How can you justify the threat to police officers pay and conditions when you will knowingly be making their job to protect our communities that much more dfficult?  How can you justify the taxes we pay towards our policing and justice whilst simultaneously encouraging the doubtless non tax paying, benefit claiming, criminals in society to remain on their path of lawlessness?

If ever there was a barmy ill thought out idea that will surely damage our society, it is this one. 


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