Do not jail thieves and fraudsters, law professor says

 
A thief breaks into a car during a mock-up by the Police Service of Northern Ireland in Belfast, Monday November 21, 2005. The priority after thefts should be compensation or reparation for the victim, Prof Ashworth said

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Thieves and fraudsters should not be jailed, a legal expert has said.

In a pamphlet released by the Howard League for Penal Reform, Prof Andrew Ashworth said jail should be reserved for offenders who commit crimes of a violent, sexual or threatening nature.

Fines and community sentences would be more effective for others and reduce the prison population in England and Wales by almost 6,000, he said.

But the government said it had "no intention" of changing the law.

Distributed to courts

Prof Ashworth, the Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford University, who advised the judiciary on sentencing between 1999 and 2010, said prison should still be considered in cases of robbery, blackmail and burglary.

But for "pure property offences", including theft, handling of stolen goods, criminal damage and fraud, imprisonment was disproportionate, he said.

"We should be reserving our most severe form of punishment for our most serious types of offending.

"Should someone be sent to prison and deprived of their liberty for an offence that involves no violence, no threats and no sexual assault?" he said.

"Instead, the priority should be to deal with such offences in the community, giving precedence to compensation or reparation for the victim and, where the offence is sufficiently serious, imposing a community sentence."

He also argued against imprisoning repeat, non-violent offenders.

prison officer closing gates Nearly 20,000 people were jailed for theft and handling stolen goods in 2012

However, Prof Ashworth told BBC Breakfast that he did support prison sentences for property offences in "exceptional circumstances", such as multi-million pound frauds.

BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Colman said some 20,000 people a year go to prison for theft or handling stolen goods - more than for any other crime.

Making those who commit such crimes compensate victims or serve community sentences instead would reduce the prison population by nearly 6,000, saving approximately £230m each year, our correspondent added.

The Howard League plans to distribute the pamphlet, entitled "What if imprisonment were abolished for property offences?" to every magistrates' court in England and Wales in an attempt to spark a debate on sentencing issues.

Frances Crook, the Howard League's chief executive, said: "When it comes to crimes like theft and fraud, victims are losing out from a justice system that too often prioritises putting the perpetrator behind bars rather than returning people's stolen property and providing much needed compensation."

'Untold misery'

Ms Crook added: "At a time when all areas of public finance are stretched, threatening schools, hospitals and the police, it's time for our politicians to make some tough decisions on exactly who should be sent to prison."

But a spokesman for Victim Support said the type of crime was not a reliable indicator of the impact an offence had had on a victim.

"It would be hard for community sentences to retain public confidence if offenders knew they could keep committing certain types of crime and never be jailed," he said.

"It is essential when passing sentence that judges and magistrates can take into account the full facts of the case - including the impact on the victim - not just the nature of the offence."

And Justice Minister Damian Green said: "People who commit these crimes devastate lives and cause untold misery in our communities.

"This government has no intention of changing the law to prevent judges sending them to prison. It is right they have the full range of sentencing options available to them."

 

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  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 347.

    The law is already too soft, It should be eye for an eye.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 346.

    Get some old unused oil tankers, strip them out, permanantly moor them in the middle of the pacific/atlantic. Then fly all our prisoners out there and leave them there to fend for themselves, send a helicopter once a week to deliver ration packs. Then when it gets overcrowded just send one of our submarines out to scuttle it

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 345.

    And that, my friends, is why you shouldn't always listen to so called "experts".

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 344.

    307. Me
    To posters 250, 247, 228, 219 etc etc... He's not saying burglars shouldn't go to prison... why don't you read the article...

    ----

    Haha I think that was the quickest -4 I've ever got...

    Ok just ignore what he actually said and continue to rant about what you think he said just for the sake of having a rant... :)

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 343.

    Why not just make fewer things illegal - that would reduce costs even further.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 342.

    I do feel that some are jailed when other punishment would be more appropriate. For example, jailing drivers for causing an accident which results in death would normally be inappropriate in my view. Most drivers do not set out to kill, let alone cause an accident, and they will already have suffered enough. Only in cases of deliberately dangerous homicidal driving should the driver be jailed.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 341.

    Should prison try to end drug habits? Is that not interfering with the individual's right to "expand their mind" instead of learning something useful?

  • Comment number 340.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 339.

    Thats why we are alowed to use resonable force against the burglers and would be thieves.
    They wouldn't be breaking in anywere else after visiting my abode.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 338.

    "I haven't been burgled, but if I was I don't want the perpetrators compensating me or having anything to do with me."

    Really? I'd quite like my 6 grand of stuff back from the little swine who burgled me, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Him doing community service wasn't really justice to my mind.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 337.

    It is about time that criminals paid for their crimes with a bit of pain! Thieves and the like should be flogged. Cheap, effective, and simple. Justice has got lost - and it is costing us a fortune. What a nonsense! Just give criminals a dose of the 'cat', and see what effect it has. Just do the experiment. Little cost- perhaps big results.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 336.

    Does the leaflet tell you how many offences offenders commit, and are caught for, before they receive a custodial sentence?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 335.

    I think that people who have been burgled might suggest that it is a violent crime, mentally they are as deeply scarred as someone who has been beaten up!
    Prisons are failing because they are too cushy and the follow up is too lax. Maybe they should try the system in some American prisons, first offenders attend a lecture by lifers and told not to come back, or else!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 334.

    I think life-long collars for habitual criminals would be a good idea. So that their movements could be tracked and restricted. If it could also deliver a large electric shock if the break their curfew conditions so much the better. I suppose this would breach their human rights though.

  • rate this
    -8

    Comment number 333.

    people used to be transported that is why there wasn't much crime. So bring back exile temporary or permanent. also get rid of those jailbirds in the house of lords.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 332.

    Don't think this will go down well with most HYSers - they seem the revenge and retribution type rather than the punish and rehabilitate.
    Anyway - I think it's a good idea. Making someone work hard for free may be more of a deterrent than spending a few years in prison - they're such lovely places apparently!
    A combination of both may appease a few more?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 331.

    @300 - and would you be happy for your tax bill to increase significantly to pay for those...?

    @285 - at last a sensible contribution to the debate!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 330.

    Actually I do agree with this as there are more simpler, effictive ways of dealing with repeat offenders and theives. Most of these are draconian methods that would make the wet-liberals jaw hit the floor.... but effective nonetheless. Prison is a system designed to keep dangerous people off the streets, if there are cheaper ways to deal with criminals don't make them more of a burden to society.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 329.

    The problem with this idea is that thieves will pay recompense from the proceeds of the last or next burglary were they didnt get caught.

    Rich people can afford to flaunt the laws when the punishment is just a fine and their are rich thieves out there.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 328.

    Why not give the thieves more money so they don't need to steal ! Tagging and community service are a joke as is prison ( been there done that) A criminal thinks they have got off when they get community service orders . The courts will grind to a halt if the message is no jail for thieving.
    Some of these reformist types should go live in communities with high crime rates for a reality check

 

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