Fears over rise in criminals ‘set free’

A pressure group today led calls for an end to suspended jail sentences after figures revealed the number of serious offenders in Lancashire getting them instead of a prison term is increasing.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 12th May 2014, 10:34 am
Victim support Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw says there are arguments for and against the use of suspended sentences
Victim support Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw says there are arguments for and against the use of suspended sentences

Research from the Centre for Crime Prevention reveals an astonishing number of serious and repeat offenders’ prison sentences are being suspended by the courts.

Suspended sentences are now handed out for tens of thousands of violent, property and sexual offences each year, ranging from spitting at people to manslaughter.

Examples include throwing fireworks into a crowd, theft, molesting children, assault, running a brothel, benefit fraud, burglary and animal cruelty offences.

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One judge claims they are being used “a bit like confetti”.

In Lancashire, figures released today show that in 2002, two per cent of prison sentences were suspended, whereas in 2012 that figure had risen to 36 per cent.

Nationally 11,670 serious offenders had their prison sentence suspended in 2012/13 despite more than 10 previous convictions or cautions. The group claims suspended sentences fail to stop reoffending.

Data from Freedom of Information requests reveals there were 110,745 cases of criminals sentenced last year despite one or more previous suspended sentences.

There were 215 examples of criminals being found guilty despite 10 or more suspended sentences.

Peter Cuthbertson, author of the report and director of the Centre for Crime Prevention, said: “Thugs and sex offenders who think they are finally going to prison are overjoyed when find out that the prison sentence has been suspended.

“It makes a mockery of justice for victims and puts the public at great risk.

“These figures show that criminals given suspended sentences go on to commit hundreds of thousands of crimes. Suspended sentences should be abolished.”

Rachel Baines, of Lancashire Police Federation, which represents the force’s rank-and-file officers, said: “There are clearly circumstances where a suspended sentence would not appear to be appropriate. It is a frustration of many officers that serious and repeat offenders ‘walk free’.

“I suspect budget cuts and overcrowding are part of the reason, which are simply not justifiable if victims are left feeling like justice has not been done and public safety is put at risk.

“Police officer numbers are reducing across the county at an alarming rate, and this does not do anything to alleviate the pressures on the already ‘stretched to capacity’ Police service.

Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “I am committed to ensuring victims in Lancashire feel supported throughout the criminal justice process, and have access to the help and support they need, whatever the outcome when their case goes to court.

“As with every element of the criminal justice system, there are arguments both for and against suspended sentences. I have repeatedly emphasised Lancashire’s commitment to early intervention, and it is my belief if we can get that right across the county we can stop many of these offenders even entering the criminal justice system. That is the best outcome for all Lancashire’s residents.”

A spokesman for Victim Support said: “What victims want is to feel that justice has been done and that perpetrators are not going to do the same thing to someone else.

“Not all of our victims want to see people going to jail, they have different personal opinions when it comes to appropriate justice but they generally do want to see effective action taken to prevent further crime of the sort they experienced.”