Concerns Raised over 'Postcode Lottery' in Sentencing; VARIATIONS BETWEEN COUNTIES ON LIKELIHOOD OF JAIL TERM

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), December 27, 2011 | Go to article overview

Concerns Raised over 'Postcode Lottery' in Sentencing; VARIATIONS BETWEEN COUNTIES ON LIKELIHOOD OF JAIL TERM


Byline: CLAIRE MILLER

WHERE you live in Wales may decide how likely you are to go to prison if you commit a crime, analysis has shown.

Crime prevention and prison reform charities called for more consistency in sentencing after figures showed those convicted of offences in some counties are 17 times more likely to go to prison than those in others.

People convicted of driving offences in Pembrokeshire are 17 times more likely to be jailed than those in Denbighshire.

Those who commit public order offences or who carry weapons in Conwy are 14 times more likely to be sent to prison than similar offenders in Llanelli.

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "No one wants to see a postcode lottery in sentencing. There are guidelines set by the Sentencing Council designed to prevent this.

"These set out the factors the court should take into account that may mean a more or less severe sentence should be imposed.

"This allows judges and magistrates in different courts to be fair and consistent in their approach to sentencing, providing greater clarity for victims, defendants and the public. While differences in sentencing between areas may reflect levels of offence seriousness, any significant disparities merit further investigation."

There were also concerns that cases heard in more rural parts of the country may be more likely to attract a jail term because magistrates have fewer options for community sentences.

Paul McDowell, chief executive of the crime reduction charity Nacro and former governor of Brixton prison, said: "The type of sentence someone receives can often be determined by what services are available in their local area. This can be a real problem for many local magistrates, particularly because we know from experience that short prison sentences do not work.

"Simply locking someone up for a short period of time often just delays the next offence from taking place.

"The evidence shows that 61% of people on short prison sentences reoffend within 12 months. It's even worse for persistent and prolific offenders, where four out of five will commit a crime within 12 months of leaving prison.

"Prison should be reserved for those who have committed serious or violent crimes. Tough community sentences, which really challenge behaviour and ensure the offender takes responsibility for their actions, have a much better success rate when compared to a short spell spent in prison. …

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