Tougher jail terms DO deter criminals, admits Home Office

By IAN DRURY

Last updated at 00:44 19 May 2007


A Home Office report has concluded that stiffer

prison sentences deter crime – flying in the face of Labour plans to hand out softer punishments.

Tony Blair, John Reid and

Lord Falconer have claimed

that too many criminals are

being jailed.

But the study found that

convicts jailed for less than a year

are almost 50 per cent more

likely to commit a fresh crime

within two years of their release

than those locked up for

between one and four years.

And they are twice as likely to

break the law as those jailed for

at least four years.

The report – slipped out by

Whitehall officials – is

embarrassing for the Government.

Only this month, Lord Falconer,

the newly-created Justice

Secretary, announced that tens of

thousands of burglars and other

thieves would receive community

punishments instead of jail

sentences under plans to ease

chronic prison overcrowding.

In March, the Prime Minister

signalled that there should be

greater emphasis on

rehabilitating offenders, tougher community

sentences and crime prevention.

And in January, Home

Secretary Mr Reid caused outrage by

urging the courts to use jail

sentences only as a last resort.

It meant paedophiles,

muggers, burglars and heroin dealers

walked free from court.

But his own department’s

research into thousands of

exinmates – published two months earlier – concluded: "Custodial

sentences of at least a year are

most effective in reducing

reoffending."

Figures showed that 70 per

cent of convicts jailed for under

12 months re-offended within

two years, compared with 49 per

cent of those sentenced to

between one and four years and

36 per cent of those serving at

least four years.

Researchers found that men

and women released from prison

within a year had on average 13

previous convictions –

suggesting shorter jail sentences were

failing as a deterrent.

Because these offenders were

often hooked on drugs such as

heroin and crack cocaine they

repeatedly resorted to crime to

fund their habits.

The report said prisoners

released from longer sentences

were less likely to re- offend

because they were older, had

time to be rehabilitated and had

been convicted of more serious

"one-off" offences.

The study, compiled in 2005

and 2006, looked at the

reoffending rates of 45,100

criminals who walked free in 2003 –

15,300 from prison sentences and

29,800 who were given non-custodial sentences.

It found that criminals were

more likely to re-offend if instead

of prison they were given a

community rehabilitation order or

one of the Government’s flagship

drug testing and treatment

orders, which meant staying

strictly drugs free.

However, community

punishment orders – where an offender

is, for instance, forced to sweep

the streets – were more

successful than prison in tackling reoffending-Last night, the Conservativesblamed the "abysmal"

situation on Labour’s failure to

build enough prison places.

Home affairs spokesman David

Davis said: "Prisons can work as

long as there is sufficient capacity

to ensure offenders can serve

suitable sentences and where

they can settle in one place long

enough to complete their training

and drug rehabilitation courses.

"Why won’t the Government

act on its own findings? Instead

of addressing the chronic lack of

capacity in our prisons they

simply seek any method to keep

offenders out of jail."

Building more cells would

"ensure victims get justice and

the public are protected, as well

as giving prisoners a real chance

at rehabilitation – helping to

reduce crime in long term".

Philip Davies, the Tory MP who

uncovered the report, said: "The

Government are at sixes and sevens. Because the Chancellor has

consistently refused to invest in

building more prisons, that has

resulted in their being full.

"The Government now have to

pretend that prison does not

work after all, and that it is

tougher not to send people to

prison and to give them so-called

tough community sentences."

A Home Office spokesman said

the relationship between prison

sentences and re-offending rates

was "quite complex".

He said the report did not

contradict the Government’s view

that prison should be reserved

for serious, dangerous and

violent offenders.

But he added:

"Better options for dealing with

less serious offenders exist."

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