Proposals to 'scrap' six-month sentences

MA National Chair responds to media reports

Rory Stewart - Ministry of Justice minister with responsibility for prisons, probation and sentencing policy

An interview with Rory Stewart (pictured), the Ministry of Justice minister with responsibility for prisons, probation and sentencing policy, was published in the Daily Telegraph on 12 January. In it, he said that the Ministry of Justice is 'looking very carefully' at creating a new legal presumption against the use of prison sentences of less than six months, based on the approach taken in Scotland, because they are 'too short to heal' offenders. While much of the reporting at the time suggested that this was an agreed change in policy, the Ministry of Justice told the BBC that, while they are 'exploring potential alternatives' to the use of short sentences, this work is ongoing and they have 'reached no conclusions at this time'.

In a subsequent interview with the Guardian, Rory Stewart again discussed this issue, saying that 'the wrong kind of short prison sentence leads to more reoffending and endangers the public', adding 'I've been very impressed by the early stuff we've got from Scotland. I think we can learn a lot from Scotland, and we're looking very actively at that'. He noted, however, that 'We'd have to bring magistrates, judges, the media and parliament with us – and it's going to be tricky'.

In response to these media reports, the MA's National Chair John Bache had a letter published in the Daily Telegraph arguing that, while it is correct that short sentences are largely ineffective in reducing reoffending and should be used as rarely as possible, existing sentencing guidelines are already clear that a prison sentence should only be used when deemed unavoidable. It is therefore unlikely that the proposed 'presumption against' short sentences would make any significant difference. John argued that if the Ministry of Justice wants to see fewer people given short prison sentences, they should instead focus on ensuring that effective community sentences are available in every area of the country and that magistrates should be given the power to review the progress made by an offender serving a community sentence. John was also interviewed on this issue on the BBC News Channel. 

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