MA proposes approach for reducing the use of short prison sentences

MA proposal

12 June 2019
MA proposes approach for reducing the use of short prison sentences

Last week David Gauke confirmed plans to unveil proposals to abolish custodial sentences under six months by the summer. The MA believes it is unhelpful to consider custodial sentences of only a few weeks in the same way as sentences of up to six months; so we suggest that an alternative would be to put in place restrictions on when immediate custody of up to eight weeks could be ordered. Our proposals would require sentencers to give a community order instead of an immediate custodial sentence of under eight weeks custody apart from:

  • when an offender has breached an existing order or committed an offence while on an existing order, or;
  • in exceptional circumstances, such as situations where the offender is only in the UK for a few weeks so could not engage with community options

This change could only be introduced once the government could guarantee that robust and effective alternatives to custody were universally available.

John Bache said:

“If current provision of robust and effective community alternatives to custody could be guaranteed in all areas, this would increase sentence confidence. Once this is in place, the MA would support restrictions being placed on the use of immediate custody to support the Ministry of Justice in its aims to reduce the use of short prison sentences. Sentencers must retain discretion to order immediate custody if existing orders have been breached, and there are no appropriate alternatives, but otherwise sentences of up to eight weeks should be restricted so that they are only available in the most exceptional circumstances.”

The MA welcomes the opportunity to discuss these proposals to determine whether eight weeks is the right threshold and find a reasonable way forward to reduce any unnecessary use of short prison sentences.

Our position on this has been quoted in the Guardian, Times and Telegraph.

The MA’s full position statement can be read here.

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