Tougher than you: Debate on crime ‘makes the situation worse’

By Ian Dunt

The debate on sentencing in Britain is actually creating more crime than it solves, an influential committee of MPs has found.

In a damning assessment of the British debate on sentences for those convicted of criminal offences, the Commons’ justice committee cast doubt on almost every aspect of the current system.

The committee found current sentencing policy risked being driven by a “misconception of what people want”, which is “not intelligent, appropriate or sustainable” and, more worryingly, means resources will be diverted away from an effective sentencing framework.

This will “result in more people being victims of crime in the future and less confidence in the criminal justice system,” the MPs concluded.

MPs reserved particular scorn for the five aims of sentencing policy set out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which they described as “neither internally coherent nor consistently applied”.

Sir Alan Beith, chair of the committee, said: “The basic principles of sentencing laid out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 are not consistent with each other and there is no clarity as to the primary goals of sentencing: nor do sentencers have the information to determine what works to prevent further crime.

“Media reports and opinion polls constantly tell us that people want longer custodial sentences,” he continued.

“However, when asked about the appropriate sentence in specific cases, and given all the facts, people actually support sentencing at or below present practice.

“Sentencing policy should not be determined on the presumption that the public regard longer custodial sentences as more effective.”

The committee was unimpressed by the nature of the debate around sentencing in Britain, which it said revolved around who “could appear toughest on crime”.

MPs described that competition as “counterproductive” and claimed it actually damaged public confidence in the criminal justice system.

“Pursuing a policy of sending more people to jail for longer is based on the misguided conception that it will increase public confidence in sentencing when in fact, paradoxically, it will only divert resources from the measures needed to prevent more crime, and therefore more people becoming victims of crime,” Sir Alan said.