The number of convicted criminals being sent straight to prison is at the lowest rate it has been for a decade, hitting its lowest level in nearly 50 years according to official figures. During the same time, crime has been steadily rising.
The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice revealed that in 2018, 75,800 people who were convicted received a custodial sentence (as reported here on BBC News). In 2009, 80,700 people were given immediate custodial sentences. At the same time there has been a 12 per cent rise in the number of fines judges have handed out; from 66% of offenders getting a fine as a result of a guilty verdict or plea in 2009 to 78% in 2018. Boris Johnson has promised that a Conservative government would introduce a harsher sentencing regime – as reported on the Justice Gap (here).
It has been noted that judges are opting for softer sentencing options despite a backdrop of soaring crime over the last 10 years. According to the MoJ’s figures, in 1970, 1.86 million people went through the criminal justice system, compared to 1.58 million between July 2018 and June 2019.
Crime records kept by the police saw an overall rise by 6 per cent to 5.3 million offences (excluding fraud crime). Some researchers argue that this rise is correlated to better record-keeping among the police force and the ease with which victims are able to come forward.
Police officers have particularly expressed their concern and frustration about repeat offenders avoiding prison sentences. ‘Violent crime is increasing but the number of offenders who are being sent to prison is decreasing and this is a huge frustration for police officers who work hard to bring these people to justice,’ John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales told the BBC.
Apter said that whilst he was ‘a supporter of rehabilitation… there are some people out there who need to be locked up’. ‘The system needs to listen to society and society is saying that we want to see offenders pay for their crimes. Without suitable and appropriate prison sentences, there is simply no deterrent for repeat offenders. My colleagues are incredibly frustrated at the way victims are constantly being let down,’ he said.