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 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 12:45 GMT
Head to head: Burglary sentences
Lord Chief Justice Woolf believes non-violent domestic burglars should no longer be sent to prison for a first offence. We took the views of a burglary victim and a Labour politician.

This Buckinghamshire resident, who wished to remain anonymous, has been burgled twice in the last six months but does not believe that prison is always the best answer.

The first time I was burgled was in August. They came in while I was upstairs in bed and took my bag, my mobile phone, my car keys and then the car.

I'd rather see it hurt them financially

It was a massive shock at first when you see a big space where your car used to be, and then you find other things that were missing too. But it was also something you felt grateful for because they hadn't taken a great deal.

The second time was more traumatic. I came home and the lights and the TV were on. They had been through drawers and it was a creepy feeling that people had been through my stuff. They took quite a lot of jewellery, stuff that had sentimental value. Now every time I get home I almost expect to find things missing.

The police checked for fingerprints, but there was a sense they were going through the motions. No-one seemed to believe they would catch them.

I feel the majority of burglaries, and the two I had, are opportunistic. I don't think burglars would stop twice even with tough sentences because they don't think they will be caught. If they were young kids I don't see how prison would be an answer.

A lot of things that go on in prison would just upgrade them to other crimes. I'd rather see it hurt them financially, so if they were caught they would have to give goods of equal value. That would provide more deterrent and more satisfaction to me.

Making them meet their victims face to face would have more of an impact than a rather impersonal criminal justice system.

Graham Allen is a Labour MP scrutinising the government's Criminal Justice Bill and is concerned at the message the ruling could send.

While I am very supportive of community sentences, indeed I believe they should be far more extensive and flexible, I strongly believe the burglar who may be entering your house tonight should have at the back of his mind the possibility that he could end up in prison.

To release burglars from that fear would send the wrong message both the burglars and to law abiding people.

The question of the prison population and more important prison reform is a separate one which needs to be addressed by turning prisons into rehabilitation and educational institutions to prevent reoffending.

Lord Chief Justice Woolf should not be empowered to change sentences in this manner.

It should be agreed with the government (the home secretary) and Parliament. Currently I am a member of the Criminal Justice Bill and this undermines the work we are trying to do.

  The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Re-offending rates are very high"
  Oliver Letwin, Shadow Home Secretary
"We need alternatives that actually work"
Should first-time burglars avoid jail?



3784 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Talking Point: First time burglarsInside or out?
Should first-time burglars avoid jail?
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20 Dec 02 | Politics
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