Revealed: The career criminals dodging prison
Dozens of career criminals dodged prison last year – despite having more than 75 previous offences.
New figures show 25 regular criminals in West Mercia, including thieves and public order offenders, avoided prison despite offending again.
In the wake of the figures, the Magistrates Association has called on the Government to give courts greater flexibility with regards to repeat offenders, including allowing greater control over rehabilitation orders.
The Government says community sentences are “often more effective” than short prison sentences.
Ministry of Justice figures show in the 12 months to September 2018, 58 criminals with more than 75 previous offences each were convicted – but 25 of those received no immediate prison sentence.
The most common punishment – after immediate custody – was an alternative order, such as a confiscation order or disqualification from driving. A further two people were given a conditional discharge, meaning no punishment is given unless a further offence is committed.
In Dyfed-Powys, seven criminals with more than 75 previous offences dodged jail, with 16 in Staffordshire.
The figures have been released amid an ongoing debate about the merit of custodial sentences of under a year, with calls for them to be abolished completely.
Magistrates Association chairman John Bache said: “Previous offending history is only one factor taken into consideration. Magistrates always consider each case on its own merits and follow strict sentencing guidelines.
“Repeat but very low-level offending would not necessarily reach the custody threshold. Custody should only ever be used for the most serious offences, where there are no appropriate alternatives which could fulfil sentencing aims.”
The most common crime type committed by re-offenders who avoided prison in West Mercia was public order offences, with 16 cases. There were also eight thieves who were not placed in immediate custody.
Across England and Wales, around 1,500 career criminals with more than 75 previous offences dodged prison.
The Howard League for Penal Reform praised these sentences, saying custodial time does not prevent re-offending.
Chief executive Frances Crook commented: “What is the point in sending a homeless person to prison because they keep stealing sandwiches? We need to invest in turning lives round, rather than knee-jerk punishments that just make things worse.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Sentencing is a matter for independent judges, but under this Government the most serious offenders are more likely to go to prison, and for longer. However, while prison will always be the only place for serious and violent offenders, there is persuasive evidence showing community sentences are often more effective in reducing re-offending than short spells behind bars.”