Prison alternatives need more attention
SIR – Rory Stewart, the prisons minister, is right that short sentences are largely ineffective in reducing reoffending and should be used as rarely as possible (report, January 12).
However, existing sentencing guidelines are clear that a prison sentence should be used only when it is deemed unavoidable. It is therefore unlikely that the proposed “presumption against” short sentences would make any significant difference.
If the Ministry of Justice wants to see fewer short sentences, it should ensure that effective community sentences are available in every area of the country, which is not the case at the moment. Magistrates should also be given the power to review the progress made by an offender serving a community sentence. This would mean they could impose such sentences with confidence, knowing that they provide an appropriate alternative to custody while helping offenders to turn their lives around. John Bache JP
National Chairman Magistrates Association London SW8 SIR – Mr Stewart claims that prison sentences of less than six months are “too short to heal”.
Prison is supposed to be a deterrent. Equally, with rising crime and understaffed police forces, is it not more appropriate to take burglars and the like off the streets? Community sentences are akin to a “stay out of jail” card and will only encourage such criminals to offend again. Kim Potter
SIR – It is right to avoid shorter prison sentences. This will ensure that those receiving longer sentences are given access to the scant resources available.
With fewer prison staff to supervise prisoners, all too often they have to enforce “lockdown” in their wings, resulting in prisoners being confined to their cells for most of the day. Such conditions do not improve prisoners’ wellbeing: they lead to bitterness and can result in aggressive behaviour. This cycle must be broken if rehabilitation is to succeed. Jeremy Prescott