West Midland magistrates twice as likely to jail offenders
MAGISTRATES in the West Midlands jailed nearly 3,000 people last year – with courts in the area twice as likely to send people to prison than elsewhere in the country.
In 2017, magistrates’ courts in the West Midlands police force area jailed 2,947 people, or 7.5 per cent of all those convicted. This meant criminals were two times more likely to be sent to jail than in England and Wales as a whole, where 3.8 per cent of those convicted were jailed.
Prison reform campaigners said evidence showed short bursts of imprisonment led to more offending and more victims, so alarm bells rang when some courts were jailing people more frequently than others.
Among those given custodial sentences last year were eight offenders aged between 12 and 14, and 94 who were aged between 15 and 17, according to the figures published by the Ministry of Justice.
For those jailed, the most common type of offence committed were theft offences, which led to 1,263 people being jailed in the West Midlands in 2017.
As well as being more likely to jail people overall, magistrates in the West Midlands were 1.5 times more likely to send people to prison for criminal damage and arson – jailing 18 per cent of those convicted, compared to 12 per cent across England.
Courts in the West Midlands were also more likely to jail people for violence against the person (sending 32.6 per cent of offenders to jail compared to 24.8 per cent across Eng- land and Wales), sexual offences (19.7 per cent against 15.9 per cent), and public order offences (26.7 per cent against 23.2 per cent).
Magistrates’ courts can sentence people for up to six months in prison (or up to 12 months in total for more than one offence).
Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “When magistrates send someone to prison, they are making a choice that can have disastrous consequences. Short pris- on sentences are a catastrophe for everyone. As the government has recognised in recent announcements, the evidence shows that short bursts of imprisonment lead to more offending and more victims.
“When sentencing practices vary so significantly from region to region, it only strengthens the argument for removing from magistrates the power to sentence people to prison – and to look instead at redirecting their responsibilities to helping people to lead crime-free lives.”