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EDITIONS
 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 11:35 GMT
Should first time burglars avoid jail?
Talking Point: Burglars
The "average" first-time domestic burglar will no longer be sent to jail, following a ruling by the most senior Judge in England and Wales.

The Lord Chief Justice has given a ruling that non-professional and non-violent domestic burglars should receive a community sentence like probation rather than face a prison sentence.

But he says the punishment must tackle the offender's underlying problems, such as drug addiction.

According to Lord Woolf, the new sentencing guidelines are intended to provide "better protection for the public and to result in some reduction in the use of custody".

The prison system, he said, was "grossly overcrowded" and statistics showed that relatively few people were put off crime by their first experience of jail.

Do you think first-time burglars should avoid a prison sentence? Is community service an effective punishment? Do jail sentences really work?


This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

As usual our government is being reactive

Rob, UK
The punishment for burglary should be tougher, not easier. And why should it make any difference if the burglar does not use violent force? The emotional effect on the victim of a burglary can be as lasting as any physical blow. As usual our government is being reactive instead of proactive, and looking for short-sighted quick fixes to the long term problems they continue to create.
Rob, UK

I've been burgled three times in three separate houses. The psychological damage caused by being burgled is worse than anything physical. Four years later I am still paranoid about it happening again. I can no longer trust in the safety of my own home. The main suspect was a young village boy thought to be responsible for many burglaries in the village. He had been to court many times and was known for boasting that due to being under age he couldn't be put away.
Nigel, UK

How about forcing the criminals to repay the victims in full plus a reasonable amount for suffering? Make them work until they have repaid. If they don't work, send them to jail. I suggest supervised unpleasant manual labour. Any objections?
Piers, England

It seems to me Lord Woolf is more bothered about overcrowded jails than the security of my house. And if drugs are part of this problem then why not legalise them and prevent addicts turning into criminals to feed their habit?
Pete, UK

Crime is seen as great career

Bob, UK
The whole judicial system is an utter joke. Crime is seen as great career, where the corrupt law firms and villains rule supreme and victims of crime are ignored. We need a government, any government that will put law and order first and come down with an iron first on criminals. If we need more prisons, build them, and make the criminals and their families pay for them.
Bob, UK

Once again the whole system is stacked against the honest hard working person. If university students have to pay in part for their studies why shouldn't the convicted criminals pay for part of their time in prison instead of the rest of us having to foot the bill for their actions?
Michael, Newcastle, UK

Criminals tend to pick on the weakest in society. With the welfare state no-one in this country is starving. There is no excuse. Crime is a choice, and now it's going to be even more tempting. But judges and the government have security and protection paid for by tax payers. So they feel quite safe in their looney lefty experiments.
Richard, London UK

They should go to prison and then undertake community service and rehabilitation into civilised society. Most crimes of this sort always appear "petty" unless of course you are the victim.
Lez Graham, UK

Community service may give such individuals a taste of something they appear to lack: social responsibility and community spirit

Caren, Canada
Lord Woolf emphasized that community service should only be used in appropriate circumstances; where a judge could be fairly sure the offender would benefit more from such a sentence than serving gaol time. Community service, therefore, should not be equated with "the first one is free". Community service may also give such individuals a taste of something they appear to lack: social responsibility and community spirit.
Caren, Canada

Our jails are already at bursting point. In 1975 the prison population was 39,820, it is now in excess of 70,000. Maybe we should spend millions more building even more prisons, and make them tougher, surely there would be no complaints about the ever soaring cost to the exchequer? If we haven't realised by now that prison, purely as a deterrent, does not work, then we will have to continue with mass incarceration until the whole system collapses around our ears.
Paul, UK

Another fluffy loony left idea! The public need the reassurance that crime does not pay. This just gives the criminals a License to Steal.
Jan, UK

Community service would probably be a far better punishment - and would actually get the criminals to 'repay their debt to society' in a far more productive way. If putting people in prisons worked the prison population shouldn't be increasing the way it is. At least see if community service works before writing it off - if nothing else it will get these criminals doing something productive for the good of the community for once.
Rachel, UK

Whilst I agree with the notion of non-custodial sentences for less serious offences, burglary is a very serious offence. Most people would find the idea of an intruder in their house terrifying and the effects of this can be longstanding. If an armed robber robs a bank with a water pistol they are still sentenced as if it was a real gun; this is because they have put people in fear of their lives. Burglars do the same.
Andy Thomas, London, England

It doesn't matter to me that first time, non-professional, non-violent burglars aren't jailed; but I do think that the replacement punishment should reflect the severity of their crime, such as community service for the duration of what their sentence would have been.
Wendy, UK

These people should go to jail so that the poor victims can sleep at night

Vanessa, UK
No way should they avoid jail, as a victim of a burglar twice I can say that it is very frightening and you end up living in fear. Afraid to go out and afraid to be at home. These people should go to jail so that the poor victims can sleep at night!
Vanessa, UK

It depends what we want to achieve with our criminal justice system. If we want to reduce crime, then the evidence from every country in the world is that putting people in prison has the opposite effect - so three cheers, it's the right thing to do. If on the other hand we just want to wreak vengeance on these shameless unchristian reprobates because they deserve it, then I'm off to buy some shares in the companies that run our prisons and sell us burglar alarms.
Terry, UK

Tough on crime tough on the causes of crime - has there ever in history been such a discredited catch phrase?
Stephen Andrews, England

Punishment doesn't solve the deep underlying reasons why we live in a society that steals from each other: theft is a major industry. If we can reach the first-time, or potential, robber before they act then, at least, we might be doing something positive, a service to our society. This is one tiny step.
Anon, London, UK.

Perhaps if the judge had been a victim of burglary he might have a different attitude. Burglary is an evil crime, it intrudes into your home and the elderly suffer greatly from it. When will this government and judiciary realise that the victim comes first, not the criminal. So prisons are full - build more. Crazy ideas like this can only lead to more burglary, after all what has the first time burglar got to lose?
Cliff, UK

This is unbelievable. Basically it's OK to burgle an elderly person who will then live in fear for it happening again, and what punishment will the offender get - oh yes he can paint a fence. It's ridiculous.
Jez, UK

It is about time we stop thinking that the solution to crime is simply to lock people up

Ian Jones, UK
I welcome this move by the Lord Chief Justice. It is about time we stop thinking that the solution to crime is simply to lock people up. Prison should be left for violent offences with the protection of the public in mind. Short term prison sentences (especially with our crowded prisons) do not give time for useful work to be done but provide plenty of time for the prisoner to lose his job and home, making it more likely for him to re-offend. A community sentence is much more appropriate.
Ian Jones, UK

This is plain absurd. The Lord Chief Justice obviously does not understand the concept of a deterrent, and his proposals will encourage more people to start a life of crime. It is time for him to resign.
Jonathan Kelk, UK

So if I'm a bit strapped for cash, I can burgle a house with absolutely zero chance of being imprisoned. And keep on doing so until the first time I'm caught. Sweet. Even I'm tempted to give up my day job.
Ray, UK

How about taking the opposite approach and threaten these "first time" offenders with a minimum of 25 years

Jacqui Dalton, UK
How about taking the opposite approach and threaten these "first time" offenders with a minimum of 25 years and see how they like that prospect. I bet it would still not be as distressing as coming back to find your home violated and your hard earned possessions gone!
Jacqui Dalton, UK

They may as well try it, but they should make burglars pay back every penny stolen. Thieves take the easy route when everyone else works hard for their money. The root cause of social depravation and drug use should be addressed through the community sentence, but the second offence should be treated more severely.
Mark, UK

So if I caught a "non-violent" burglar in my house, should I advise him the best way to take my hi-fi out the door, because if I gave him a good beating, I'd be the one getting banged up. I can see it now; "You're a respectable member of society and should know better. This burglar was just stealing - he had no intention of being violent. Mr burglar - you get three months planting roses outside the OAP house, Mr Victim, you get 12 months in the slammer".
Paul, UK

It may or may not keep a burglar from future crimes, but it will certainly tempt some to do the first.
Agha Ata, USA

As long as the offender is punished, and punished properly (not simply told not to do it again) this is a good idea.
N Patel, England

Far better to involve them in some form of community service

Jane, Wales, UK
I agree with Lord Justice Woolf. Sending first time offenders to prison where they will come under the influence of experienced criminals is more likely to entrench them in a life of crime. Far better to involve them in some form of community service and try to ensure that their first offence is their last one.
Jane, Wales, UK

What sort of message does that send - it's ok, I know I will only get a warning the first time. We should be putting harsher deterrents in place not getting softer. Namby Pamby do-gooders again! God help us all.
Nick S, UK

Prison should be there to keep people that are a menace to society out of society. This includes first time burglars. Unfortunately, it is too often used as a punishment. Why put criminals like tax evaders in prison? Give them the community sentences.
Jem, UK

Another ridiculous notion by the powers that be. This will only encourage more criminals - do the crime, don't do the time. The grants from the lottery should go towards building more prisons instead of art galleries and the likes. What is happening to our once 'Great' Britain?
Michael, UK

 VOTE RESULTS
Should first-time burglars avoid jail?

Yes
 20.85% 

No
 79.15% 

3784 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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