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Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 18:24 GMT
Are community sentences a better deterrent?
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, has backed the recent ruling to keep first-time non-violent burglars out of jail and do community service instead.
He told the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme that he believes that community sentences work more effectively than prison terms in rehabilitating offenders.
The issue, says Lord Irvine, is whether the public would be protected by a "vigorous programme of community service" rather than "ever increasing" prison terms.
Lord Irvine has been accused of making excuses for not sending criminals to prison by a group representing victims of crime.
But the Lord Chancellor accepts that burglaries with "aggravating features" should still be dealt with by prison sentences.
This Talking Point debate has closed. Thank you for your comments.
It seems like a good idea but the whole idea of putting criminals in jail is not only rehabilitation but punishment too! Of course community service will be better for their rehabilitation but jail is better punishment. That's what criminals need - punishment. Have we got so wrapped up in human rights and what's politically correct that we are starting to overlook the actual crimes committed and focus more on the criminal's sorry background?
David London, UK
Appalled and outraged at such comments. They just reinforce the perception of the public at large that senior lawmakers, and indeed members of the Governmentt have totally lost touch with the real world. Its not about reabilitating "offenders", its about protecting law abiding members of society from these criminals. Build more jails, employ more prison officers and get these people off the streets. Comments such as Irvine's and Woolf's declare open-season for burglars to commit their crimes without any worry of punishment.
On the subject of protecting the community by locking people away, research has shown again and again that you would have to lock a staggeringly large number of people away for a staggeringly long time in order to reduce the crime rate by just a few percent, because most criminals are not caught.
Why should the reparation and hard work involved in a decently structured and thought out community sentence be seen as the easy option. Introduce and enforce useful and serious such sentences and you might actually get what people want - less recidivism and hence less crime.
So now we put mothers in prison for not sending their kids to school, old age pensioners for cutting down their own hedge, but we let off burglars with community sentencing.
The shambolic state of the judicial system now means that you take your sentence issued by the judge, cut it into half and that is what you will probably serve if you are unlucky. The Military Prison at Colchester has the lowest re-offence rates than any other prison in the UK, why? Because they treat the prisoners like prisoners and not like a victim. Start treating prisoners with the same contempt they showed their victims and watch that re-offence rate drop.
Can we change the question to "Are community sentences a deterrent?" I think the answer is a resounding no, especially when statistics show a substantial number of offenders fail to show up for their punishment.
Rachel W, UK
So presumably I'll have to suffer "aggravating features" to ensure the burglar goes to jail or stand aside while he ransacks my house and keep my health intact.
All Labour's recent promises on anti-social behaviour were destroyed yesterday afternoon. Burglary has joined car crime in the category of "there is too much of it to do anything about it" and so the criminals will get off scot-free. We were burgled last year and I found it to be the most humiliating, invasive experience of my life. But then, when you are in government or the Lords and have police at your disposal, crime really isn't a problem for you.
The "experts" should experience burglary and car crime before making their Panglossian proposals. I won't hold my breath for common sense to prevail.
The only time over the last god knows how many years, that crime actually fell was when Michael Howard was Home Secretary and actually got "tough" on criminals and put a large number in jail.
Surely Lord Irvine is missing something here. These sentences apply to the first time the burglar is caught - but they may have a whole string of offences behind them! It's time the judiciary woke up and realised their left-liberal views are one of the driving factors behind our increasingly lawless society.
Whatever happened to a bit of hard manual labour? We all know of places that are vandalised, neglected, or even dangerous. If the offender is forced to make a contribution to society, instead of being excluded, maybe they will want to become a part of it again. And at the very least we will have nice shiny new play areas for the kids!
Prison overcrowding is a political problem that should be dealt with by the government. The law lords should not be getting involved in politics, although I imagine they are being heavily leaned upon by the government. Recent trials have shown how utterly absurd this ruling is: in the last few days I have noticed two cases where the convicted burglar received a non-custodial sentence. Between them, the two offenders asked for 38 burglaries to be taken into consideration.
Give every burglar five years but make prison like the old prisons, not like holiday camps.
I don't think community service will be as effective a deterrent. What does concern me about locking up first-time burglars is that you are sending them to the university of crime for a few years before you release them. But if we are going to do community service, I hope it will include making the burglar repaying his/her victim for everything that was stolen from them.
Peter Finch, England
In response to Mr Finch: I strongly disagree - most people do not break the law and I am sure that the general public like myself do not consider burglary to be a minor offence.Build more prisons!
Community sentences combined with name and shame, which has been a proven deterrent should be used for first time offenders, combined with very harsh prison sentences for repeat offenders and serious crimes. Overall this would probably reduce the prison population by providing real deterrent
Whether community service orders rehabilitate the offender is not the question. The point is that by imposing what most of us will view as a more lenient sentence will drastically take away the deterrent factor in preventing burglaries.
Community sentences are intended to give the defendant an opportunity to put something back into the community. They are a way to try to reform the criminal while at the same time allowing reparation to be made. If you want to deter a criminal you need mandatory sentences in prison for extended periods. In the case of first time offenders of less serious crimes, community sentences should always be considered. But only where the defendant shows some sign of remorse or that they would benefit from retaining their liberty.
So, Lord Irvine thinks that community sentences work more effectively than prison terms in rehabilitating offenders. Crime statistics suggest he is entirely wrong.
Criminals are law-breakers by definition. Being kind to them merely makes law-breaking an even more attractive proposition.
Robbing someone's home, and putting the victims through the trauma of the aftermath is now not considered a serious crime. However, having an untidy garden is worthy of a 4 month prison sentence. The so called justice system in this country is truly nonsensical.
This Talking Point debate has closed. Thank you for your comments.
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