In a report to The Daily Telegraph, Prison Minister Rory Stewart is ‘looking very carefully’ at imposing a new requirement for courts to scrap jail sentences that are under six months.
The new requirement would follow in the footsteps of Scotland, which already has a ban on sentences under six months – and are looking to extend it to 12 months.
Most burglars and shoplifters may elude jail time, and instead receive a community sentence.
Evidence points to lower re-offending rates after community sentencing compared to prison sentences. Rory Stewart stated that short prison sentences are ‘long enough to damage you and not long enough to heal you.
The new proposal is to ease the pressure on prisons, with 30,000 criminals a year being imprisoned for less than six months. Only those convicted of sex crimes or violence would be excluded from it.
This would free up 4000 prison spaces at any one time. In 2017, 65,000 offenders were jailed and just under half received sentences of 6 months or under.
The Prison Minister stated ‘the public are safer if we have a good community sentence rather than putting people in prison for short sentences and it will also relieve a lot of pressure on these prisons’.
‘You bring someone in for 3 or 4 weeks, they lose their house, they lose their job, they lose their family, they lose their reputation.’
This outlook promotes a striking shift in philosophy towards focusing on rehabilitation rather than just putting offenders in jail, which has doubled the prison population to more than 80,000 since the 90s.
The outcome will have many benefits towards petty criminals, however it is also likely to provoke a backlash against ‘soft justice’ in the Conservative Party, which is traditionally seen as the ‘party of law and order’.
The new moves are due to be revealed later this year and will require a change in the law.