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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  • Comment number 787.

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

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 786.

    I agree. To punish a petty thief the same as a paedophile is ridiculous.

    Many people are in jail for a theft committed out of pure desperation, but we call all thieves the same. A one off crime where no one was hurt should not a criminal record make either. I know several good people held back from good jobs because of one mistake in their youth. Yet to proper criminals, a record means nothing.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 785.

    It seems most people here just want revenge for revenge's sake. Personally i'd like to see a reduction in crime and the current system isn't achieving that.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 784.

    I find the current system very frustrating. We hear how our prisions are at bursting point. I ABSOLUTELY agree that prison should be for serious offences, violent crimes or where the criminal is a danger to the public. Let's make prison less attractive and find ways for criminals of non serious offences pay back society. There must be something they could do? Come on politicians / police, think!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 783.

    Get rid of them. Its not up to taxpayers to make them better people. Deport them back to their own country. If they are UK citizens put them on an island off the coast of Scotland or somewhere, and apart from patrolling the area with armed boats, leave them in peace to enjoy their hooman rights.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 782.

    Sorry completely disagree infact taking this soft approach makes things worse as there is no real deterrent. Sounds brutal but bring back the cat of nine tails for thieves, death penalty for murderers and castration for sex offenders. I bet that will reduce crimes. We are too soft.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 781.

    768.Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers
    Just now
    Theft from businesses & retails stores results in higher prices for us all so we are all affected by shoplifters.

    +++

    Shops could perhaps make the point by printing on receipts how much the purchases would have cost if the shop did not suffer from theft and the costs of security.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 780.

    Totally agree. It's mad to waste huge sums of taxpayer's money locking up non-violent criminals. Money motivates their crime so their financial affairs should be taken over by the state until all victims are fully recompensed and a suitable fine and judicial costs paid. If they've spent the ill-gotten money, they must pay extra tax until all parties, victims first, are paid.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 779.

    735. stinkos
    7 MINUTES AGO

    What was the point in sending Hune to prison?

    Well it made me feel a lot better for a start. Seeing a dishonest jumped-up MP with a personalised number plate taught that he cannot break the law made my day!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 778.

    One day I hope we, the Great British public will insist on a Government with an evidence based approach. One that applies policies that are actually proven to work as opposed to creating policies to either placate the misinformed or benefit their friends & stakeholders.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 777.

    Well he's no expert then is he?

    Government often say coming out of a recession is housing lead. Why not build more prisons!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 776.

    Restorative justice a good idea in theory. But with non-custodial sentences, how to ensure the criminals stop offending albeit for a relatively short time? If they don't turn up, or just refuse to pay and the proceeds of crimes have been deposited abroad and are inaccessible for confiscation, jailing is probably the only remaining option. Is there a proven record of success for community sentence?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 775.

    Prison is there to serve as a punishment. The fact it doesn't work is irrevant. It keep's the offender from comitting any more fraud. Why don't prison be made very uncomfortable whilst they are serving the sentence then maybe the fraudsters just might think again ....

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 774.

    Tried to get on R5L today to "have a go" and this mad man but as usual R5L the propagand arm of the labour party would not allow it

    I had 5 M/C stolen still not been caught but know how it was, sold for around £2_000 , what fine him £200 , he got no money in the first place he only go rob somebody else. And is responsible for mult-robbery , he should be jailed 4 long crime down

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 773.

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

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 772.

    A little old lady walks into Asda and steals a 19p bottle of ketchup. Yes, this is wrong. Some people on here have suggested that she should go to a hard labour camp or have her hands cut off. And then for the people who cry "what about the victims?", well what do the victims get? A higher tax bill to pay for prison. Surely it's a good idea to determine sentences based on individual cases.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 771.

    Property theft can cause an immense amount of stress. Families don't feel safe in their own homes. It's a terrifying thought that someone would break into your house when your children could be there.

    If someone breaks into a house they're obviously prepared to do something worse than theft if they're confronted.

    If they don't want to do the time, don't do the crime.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 770.

    761. singwhenyourwinning

    "Broadly commit three crimes of a certain minimum severity level and you go to prison for the rest of your life, no parole, no appeal! "

    That's a no-no with the current prison system. I don't want to support chain offenders for the rest of their lives - to what effect? they'd be fed, clothed and kept warm with our money.

    Hard labor or the noose, let them choose.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 769.

    Dont keep making excuses for these sc*mbags.
    I had a choice when I left school I, decided to get a job and work for a living.
    Burglary is not just theft, it can cause extreme distress for the victim.
    Give the choice of punishment to the victims,.
    The legal system has lost the plot.
    Payed hard labour sounds like a suitable deterent, and make them pay back for what they have taken / damaged,

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 768.

    Theft from businesses & retails stores results in higher prices for us all so we are all affected by shoplifters.
    Professional security systems & operating them & maintaining them & security guards also do not come cheap, more costs on consumers.

    There is no such thing as a "less" victimless crime, just some crime victims suffer out of view, & out of mind of Ashworth

 

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