Today I read two separate and entirely contradictory reports. The first was in the Daily Mail, the second was in the Prison Reform Trust’s Autumn Bromley Briefings Factfile.
In the Mail article, the author laments over the widespread use of non-custodial sentences, and suspended sentences in particular. He even quotes a representative from the Centre for Crime Prevention think-tank as having said: “Suspended sentences are being hugely overused for very prolific offenders, which means very serious crimes are effectively going unpunished. This is a sickening insult to victims. They completely fail to deter hardened criminals…protect the public or stop re-offending. It is high time we abolished suspended sentences.”
However, the claim that suspended sentences are less likely to prevent re-offending than a prison sentence is directly contraindicated by a number of statistics quoted in the latest Bromley Briefings Factfile. For example, “Prison has a poor record for reducing reoffending – 45.2% of adults are reconvicted within one year of being released. …For those who have served 11 months or more previous custodial sentences, the rate of reoffending rises to 68.7%” and “Court orders (Community Orders and Suspended Sentence Orders) are more effective (by nearly seven percentage points) at reducing one-year proven reoffending rates than custodial sentences of less than 12 months for similar offenders. People discharged from immediate custodial sentences also committed more reoffences than matched offenders given a community sentence.” Not to mention what offenders themselves say: “In a recent survey of 2,919 people on Community Orders, nearly all of those surveyed (96%) agreed that they had tried hard to do all the things in the Community Order. 77% agreed that the Community Order made them less likely to commit crime, and 64% agreed that it had given them an opportunity to give something back to society.”
Now, I’m not saying that community orders and suspended sentences are appropriate in all cases, of course they’re not, but the Mail’s perpetuation of the myth that such orders are the soft option, involving no punitive element and failing to stop reoffending, is simply wrong. The statistics quoted above and in the Bromley Briefings Factfile all came from none other than the Ministry of Justice, run by the very Justice Secretary (Chris Grayling) who the Mail says “has tried to take a tougher line, declaring ‘prison works’.” So what is their real agenda here?
You may or may not believe what offenders themselves say about their likelihood of reoffending, and you may or may not believe the arguments put forward by ministers over whether or not crime is really falling. However, the numbers of people who commit further offences following either a custodial sentence or a community order are concrete and indisputable. And the fact is this: those who are sent to prison are more likely to reoffend than those who receive a community order or suspended sentence.