Cambridgeshire magistrates urged to impose fewer prison sentences

Scales of Justice.

Scales of Justice. - Credit: Archant

MAGISTRATES in Cambridgeshire are being urged to impose fewer prison sentences after figures reveal they are almost three times as likely to send someone to jail as courts in other parts of the country.

New research by the charity, the Howard League for Penal Reform, reveal that people who have been convicted of a crime in England and Wales face a postcode lottery when they are sentenced.

A growing number of magistrates’ benches are making good use of community sentences which reduce crime and help people to turn their lives around, says the league.

However, some benches are still imposing prison sentences in cases where the group feels they are unnecessary.

The statistics show a striking disparity between sentencing rates in different parts of England and Wales.

In 2011 courts in Cambridgeshire imposed custodial sentences in 4.4 per cent of the cases they heard compared to 1.5% in Warwickshire and 1.6% in Northumbria.

The national average is 3.8 per cent.

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Magistrates’ courts in Cambridgeshire handed down 14,706 sentences to men, women and children during 2011, of which 651 were custodial.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “One cannot ignore the striking disparity in sentencing trends between different criminal justice areas.

“A short-term prison sentence is a catastrophe for everyone. It does not help change the life of the person sentenced, indeed, it is likely to compound issues such as drug addiction and make them more likely to re offend.

“It costs the taxpayer a fortune and it does nothing to help victims, who get no recompense or easing of trauma.

“A court which imposes short prison sentences increases the likelihood of local people becoming victims of crime, because the failure rate is so high.

“Community sentences are much cheaper than custody and they deliver better results. They not only address a person’s offending, but allow them to access other services they need, such as help with drink, drugs or mental health problems.”

The statistics have been published as Ministry of Justice figures show that short-term prison sentences are failing to cut crime.

Only 36 per cent of adults who began community orders between April 2010 and March 2011 went on to re offend within a year.

This compares with 58 per cent of adults who completed a prison sentence of 12 months or less during the same period.