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Short Prison Sentences

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2010

15. What mechanism he plans to introduce to reduce the use of short prison sentences; and if he will make a statement. (9427)

We are conducting a full assessment of sentencing policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending. Short custodial sentences will be considered as part of that assessment, and we will be asking judges and magistrates for their views on these sentences and on community sentences.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. In the case of non-violent young offenders, will he support restorative justice programmes, such as neighbourhood justice panels, which are much more successful in reducing crime than traditional forms of punishment?

We are very interested in taking further the idea of restorative justice. Some very interesting experiments in youth restorative justice are under way and they will be carefully evaluated. In all these matters, evaluation is extremely important. People come forward with extremely enlightened and attractive views on how reoffending might be reduced or on how youth offenders might be diverted from the prison system, some of which work and some of which, alas, do not. One has to take a realistic look at them and evaluate them after a sufficient experiment to decide what works. On rehabilitation generally, that is one of the main reasons why we will concentrate on paying by results, wherever possible.

Does the Secretary of State accept, though, that short sentences might have a role to play in cases where a probation order or a community sentence has failed?

I am not sure where the idea that I am against all short sentences has come from. A short sentence is usually taken to mean any sentence of less than 12 months. My own view, pending this review, has always been that there is indeed a case for some short sentences where there is no realistic alternative and one is dealing with a recidivist offender. Wherever possible, of course, the pointless short term of imprisonment should be avoided where a really effective and convincing community penalty is available in its place.