MPs: Get tough to end crime tide

Community Payback team at work cleaning up outside the telephone exchange.
Community Payback team at work cleaning up outside the telephone exchange.
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CALLS are being made to toughen community sentences in order to cut re-offending.

Fylde coast MPs today backed a report by the campaign group Make Justice Work which says community sentences need to “meet the necessary standards of rigour and effectiveness” in order to stop persistent low-level crime.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies

Fylde MP Mark Menzies

It comes as the prison population in England and Wales reached a record high on Friday, with a total of 86,842 people behind bars.

Fylde MP Mark Menzies said: “The victim of the crime needs to be able to see that the perpetrator has been punished appropriately.

“A lot of work goes into rehabilitating offenders into society.

“If we’re going to do community sentences, they must be meaningful and worthwhile both in terms of what you are asking from the offender and what really contributes to society.

“But if a community sentence is not appropriate, judges should not feel constrained about giving appropriate custodial sentences.”

Paul Maynard, MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, added: “If community sentences are to enjoy any public confidence, then they must be seen as rigorous and demanding – not an opportunity for a lie-in. Re-offending rates are still too high, whether the offender goes to prison or serves a community sentence. But you don’t need to be harsh to be tough, it’s about the attitude of the organisations leading the community sentence work.”

And Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw said community sentences must look like proper punishment if the public are to back them.

He added: “Community sentences have got to be more realistic – more directed to where the offence was committed so victims can see some benefit from community sentences themselves.”

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has announced plans for a “rehabilitation revolution” to cut re-offending which currently sees three in five criminals jailed for less than 12 months re-convicted within a year.

The Community Or Custody report said: “If the Government is serious about starting a rehabilitation revolution, corners cannot be cut.”

Roma Hooper, the campaign group’s director, said: “What we learned was intensive community sentences are not just tough and challenging, they are also far more effective than short prison sentences in turning around the lives of low-level offenders.”

The report, which was the result of a study led by a panel that included former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair, former Chief Inspector of Prisons Dame Anne Owers and chairman of the Magistrates’ Association John Thornhill, suggested the prison system “now bulges at the seams” with costs of £40,000 a year for each prisoner.