October 2013 articles archive:

Do we need to be more transparent when it comes to prison sentencing?

Why do criminals get out of prison early without serving their full sentence? Does this question sound all too familiar?

 If an offender is sent to prison, it is the trial judge who will decide how long he or she should spend in jail. At least that is what we are constantly told. The length of the sentence will depend upon many factors including any statutory minimum or maximum provisions, the sentencing guidelines for the offence involved and any mitigating factors. Defendants who admit their guilt can get up to a third off their sentence if they plead guilty at the earliest opportunity.

So much time and energy is put into getting the sentence right that it seems strange that the system then appears to disregard many of these factors and introduces a completely arbitrary system which allows the defendant out of prison. Some may know this as time off for good behaviour. It is at this point that many may feel that the system is not remaining true to what happened and that any harm suffered by the victims or their families is being disregarded.

To be told that offenders always complete their full sentence but that half the time is spent in prison and the rest is spent on licence would seem to be no different than saying that offenders will be let out of prison early and without having to serve their full sentence. Is it any consolation to victims and their families to be told that, while on licence, an offender can be sent back to prison if they break its terms? In the eyes of many the offender is out of prison and 'walking the streets'.

In a recent announcement the government has said that it intends to change the law relating to the early release of prisoners. These changes will only apply to a very limited range of prisoners, namely those jailed for child rape or certain terror offences. These changes mean that such offenders will no longer be automatically released from jail halfway through their sentences. Prisoners serving extended determinate sentences for some really serious offences and who are normally eligible for release after they have served two thirds of their sentence will also be included in the proposed changes. Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has been reported as saying: "I don't want to see those people walking the streets until they are not a risk to the public".

Quite how the government has arrived at these categories of prisoners and who it has consulted is not clear. The categories are very restricted and it certainly does not answer any concerns the public may have about the transparency of sentencing. The Sentencing Council itself recognises that the way sentencing works can be confusing.


Sentencing myths - Sentencing Council

BBC News - Early jail release to be curtailed under government plans

No early exit: Worst criminals to lose automatic right to be released ...


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