The Daily Telegraph

‘Sword of Damocles’ to hang over criminals spared jail


CRIMINALS spared jail under government reforms will have the “sharp sword of Damocles” over their heads, the Justice Secretary has declared.

Alex Chalk said Ministry of Justice plans to free offenders jailed for less than a year would not be a soft option and would be restricted to those who might genuinely be rehabilita­ted by being punished in the community.

He said offenders who had broken community or any other court orders would lose their right to be considered for non-custodial sentences under the terms of his new bill. Criminals placed under such orders to carry out voluntary work, get treatment or undertake anger-management courses would immediatel­y be sent to prison to serve their full suspended sentence if they broke them – even if they had completed 90 per cent of their community punishment, he said.

“You breach court orders at your peril. And if you do so, you can expect no mercy,” said Mr Chalk. “This is the way to get them off that escalating path of offending by holding this massive sharp sword of Damocles over them and making it crystal clear they have a very clear choice, comply or go to prison.”

The sentencing bill laid before Parliament last week will introduce a legal presumptio­n against sentences under one year with offenders instead being punished in the community while subject to suspended jail terms. Similar plans were put forward by David Gauke, the former justice secretary, in 2020 although they went further by effectivel­y abolishing sentences under one year. They were scrapped by Boris Johnson as the Tories abolished early release for terrorists, violent offenders and sex offenders.

Reform of short sentences has been spurred by prison overcrowdi­ng that has led to the MOJ almost running out of cells and research showing those serving short jail terms were twice as likely to re-offend as those handed suspended sentences.

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