Labour plan to scrap short prison sentences. Conservatives fear “risk to public safety”

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Richard Burgon MP, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, outlined Labour’s plans to reduce the number of victims of crime and the costs of reoffending by ending ineffective short prison sentences and investing in proven alternatives.

However, the Conservative Party have said today that this policy to scrap prison sentences of under six months would lead to a surge of offenders on our streets, risking public safety.

Burgon will commit Labour to legislating for a presumption against ineffective custodial sentences of less than six months. This will not apply to those who have committed violent or sexual offences.

Burgon will also announce plans to invest in alternatives to custodial sentences that are proven to reduce reoffending, reducing both the number of victims and the economic costs. This includes properly funding the female offender strategy, women’s centres and problem-solving courts that tackle the root causes of offending.

Burgon said:

“Under the Tories our criminal justice system too often fails its key task of tackling reoffending. That means we have more victims of crime and our communities are less safe.

“Sending people to prison for a few weeks is often the worst way to tackle the drug addictions, mental health and debt problems that lead to people to commit certain crimes in the first place. The Ministry of Justice’s own evidence shows there would be tens of thousands of fewer crimes if ineffective short prison sentences were scrapped.

“For some offenders – including those who have committed rape, murder and other violent or sexual offences – prison will always be necessary. But jailing others for a few weeks in a prison system in crisis reduces the chances of rehabilitation, making reoffending more likely.  Yet thousands of people are being jailed each year for shoplifting and figures I recently uncovered show nearly half of all women sent to prison were homeless.

“Instead of the Tories investing scarce justice resources in new prison places that just repeats the errors of the past, we will invest effective alternatives that keep people safe.”

Labour cited statistics that showed reoffending costs estimated at £18bn per year, and that reoffending among short-sentenced prisoners is very high, creating further victims of crime. Nearly two-thirds of short-term prisoners go on to reoffend, committing crime costing an estimated £7-10bn per year.

One in three people given a custodial sentence are sentenced to less than three months in prison, with half getting less than six months. For women it is even worse – half receive a three-month sentence or less, and two-thirds receive six months or less.

However, the Conservative Party have cited a new report from the Conservative Research Department has found that under Corbyn’s Labour, almost 40,000 fewer criminals would have gone to prison last year – this represents almost half of all custodial sentences.

By scrapping short sentences, thousands of criminals whom the public would regard as deserving a prison sentence would no longer face jail, such as those committing knife crime, theft, burglary and drugs offences.

Based on the most recent official data, under Corbyn’s Labour:

  • Almost 40,000 fewer criminals would have gone to prison last year.
  • 8 in 10 of those sentenced for knife crime last year would avoid prison – with 1,200 more offenders remaining on our streets.
  • More than 8 in 10 convicted thieves would avoid prison – meaning nearly 500 fewer thieves jailed last year.
  • More than 9 in 10 would-be burglars would avoid prison – with 268 fewer criminals jailed.
  • Prison sentences for possession of dangerous drugs would be all but abolished. Only 65 criminals would have faced jail last year – just 1 per cent of those convicted for drugs offences.

In addition, there is evidence to suggest that Labour’s determination to be soft on crime would not end there, and could even be extended to even more serious offenders.

Their top team have repeatedly spoken out against tough prison sentences, perhaps best summed up when Corbyn told the House of Commons that he was against ‘a tough sentencing policy’. He has repeatedly used his position over the years to personally work to try and secure softer sentences for criminals.

With this approach to crime it is unlikely that they would end at the abolition of short sentences if they get into power. Even the most serious criminals could see more lenient punishments under a Corbyn-led government.

Robert Buckland, Justice Secretary, said:

“Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour would let tens of thousands or criminals avoid prison. They simply cannot be trusted to govern the country and keep our streets safe.

“A Conservative majority government will keep people safe with 20,000 new police officers, 10,000 more prison places and a new Sentencing Bill. Unlike Labour, we trust our judges and magistrates to use their sentencing powers appropriately, and we will always provide the prison places needed to hold those sentenced by the courts.

“Labour are soft on crime, and would spend the next year on the chaos of another two referendums. Only a vote for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives will get Brexit done and keep our streets safe.”

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