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
    +4

    Comment number 947.

    Here is a thought. Maybe it is essential to government that non-violent thieves should NOT be banged-up - after all, if ALL thieves WERE put behind bars, most of the elite and a fair few politicians would find themselves 'doing time'.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 946.

    945.Mark Fitz
    And yeh break into his house see what he says then!!

    -

    He didn't include burglary, so yours and many other highly rated comments are totally invalid.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 945.

    Tell you what they either work through the prison system building roads, cleaning roads etc, and for more serious crimes murder,child crimes etc life or death (death only if proven), we waste millions on people that have abused the system and re-offend and the public always suffer, take away the luxuries they committed a crime for god sake.And yeh break into his house see what he says then!!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 944.

    937.ahwasright

    Is that satire too? It is really hard to tell when you are being humorous
    ---------------------------------------
    You wouldn't find it very satirical living in Saudia Arabia or Iran etc.
    -------------------------------------
    Much like reading your posts?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 943.

    Can I suggest that this liberal apologist spends time in my area. I guarantee he will be screaming for the return of the death penalty withi a week. These people have absolutely no idea.

    Spot on gollum !

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 942.

    Criminal law should not be only about how you deal with the criminal. Society at large needs greater consideration. That means the victims, potential victims and just as important, potential criminals who may be led astray by the criminal. In short, prison temporarily, prevents thieves from being an influence in their community. My guess is that Prof Ashworth does not live on a council estate.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 941.

    I suggest a new card game called Burglar Trumps, Get the 100 most notorious burglars and stick them in it, ratings could include scores for 1-20 for things like, Flexibility, Violence, Houses Burgled, Times caught etc. Not as a punishment but we may as well get something from this.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 940.

    933.Mao Zedong in Cheek
    926.ahwasright


    Satire vs Sarcasm - and the Sarcasm has it by a head.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 939.

    so what should we do with criminals that are 'petty'?
    o.k. their is different scale of theft.
    Breaking into a house stealing someones belongings and probably frightening the owners is worse than stealing a tin of peas.but its still stealing

    Surely the length of the sentence should depend on gravity of crime and also whether it's 1st or 21st time they have been caught.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 938.

    Build more prisons, keep the scum under lock and key, tougher sentences - and throw in the PC obsessed, liberal apologists at the same time (a very vocal minority who are rapidly taking over this country). The rest of us can carry on in the 'real world' not some Utopian 'la-la' land.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 937.

    933. Mao Zedong in Cheek
    We won't have to worry about this for much longer because when the Islamists take over they will just cut their hands off or something.

    -

    Is that satire too? It is really hard to tell when you are being humorous
    ---------------------------------------
    You wouldn't find it very satirical living in Saudia Arabia or Iran etc.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 936.

    Gaoling someone has 3 purposes: to punish, to re-educate and to protect society... and we need protecting from thieves & fraudsters, not just violent offenders! What we really need to focus on is the rehabilitation aspect of sentencing: the aim should be that each convict leaves the process with the determination never to be back in it again!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 935.

    ...." involves no violence, no threats"......
    No violence eh! What about the traumatic and psychological damage and fear of a future re-occurrence? Some victims never fully recover from having their property raped, trashed and pillaged, plus being deprived of sentimental as well as valuable items; not to mention the subsequent effort required to rebuild normal life.

    Psychological GBH!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 934.

    We have real problem in this country with all these bleeding heart liberals. They always live in nice leafy safe suburbs and don't have to put up with "vibrant communities". They are a damn nusiance and have no conception of what the rest of us have to put up with,

  • Comment number 933.

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

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 932.

    927.VoteYesToEUMembership
    Just now
    919.sodapop

    The prison population rocketed under New Labour so why do you keep waffling on about "PC lefties"?

    Agreed - so odd that right think the left is soft on crime - then bang on about socialist police states...mmm. Oh, well, gulag for the lot of 'em - there's no excuse for crime. At all.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 931.

    " Banned
    I will give more example on this - then fold"

    I don't see how the example you gives provides any evidence, even tenuous, to support your contention that racism in the UK or your circle of friends and acquaintances is extremely uncommon.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 930.

    He claims that COMMUNITY WORK has toughened up - not according to feedback from police and offenders.

    Who is going to pay compensation when they are out of work ?

    There are a number of reasons people reoffend and the biggest being they are pushed out onto the streets with little support.

    A charity has proven that if given help to find housing instead of hostel accommodation, it falls greatly.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 929.

    Four category's of people thinking this expert is right
    The deluded who think the best of everyone, lord bless their cotton socks.

    Those who think they will not be robbed.
    Those who rob and commit fraud
    Those who are thinking of robbing and commiting fraud.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 928.

    Prison is used when the whole raft of fines, community sentences, including drug and alcohol rehabilitation schemes are exhausted. Unfortunately, victims get little or no justice, let alone, recompense. I am unsure why we devote so much hand-wringing to those who prey without any form of concern or morality - lets rather speak up for the victims!

 

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