Judges could be told not to jail drug addict burglars if they say they want to beat addiction
PUBLISHED May 13, 2009
Jail sentences for drug-addicted burglars could be ditched in favour of community punishment if they convince the court they are trying to break their addiction.
If there are no aggravating features and only minimal damage or loss, offenders should normally be given a community punishment, according to the Sentencing Advisory Panel.
The move, criticised as a 'shocking indictment of the criminal justice system', was one of several proposed guidelines for judges set out by the panel today. Proposed guidelines for judges recommend that drug and alcohol abusers be given community punishment if they are trying to break their addiction
Advisers also said that first-time burglars who steal treasured possessions, use violence or target vulnerable people should normally be jailed for two years. In proposed guidelines for judges, the basic sentence for adult offenders who cause 'serious harm' is set at two years, with a range of between one year and four.
That can include criminals who break in to homes when there is someone in, carry weapons, or are judged to be 'professional' thieves.
In 'extreme' cases, judges should hand out even longer terms, the Sentencing Advisory Panel said.
The panel, which is made up of judges, lawyers, probation officers, magistrates and prosecutors, recommends changes to sentencing in England and Wales.
Chairman Andrew Ashworth said: 'The harm caused to victims whose homes have been burgled goes well beyond the loss of any property.
'Anger, shock, fear and anxiety are the most common reactions; some victims find they cannot sleep for some time after the offence and others feel compelled to move home.
'The panel's proposals closely follow a recent judgment from the Court of Appeal which stressed that sentences must reflect the trauma victims suffer when their homes are burgled.' First-time burglars who steal treasured possessions, use violence or target vulnerable people should be jailed for two years, sentencing advisers said
The plans will be considered by a committee chaired by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Igor Judge, which sets sentencing rules.
In a ruling in January Sir Igor said burglars should face tougher sentences because the offences should be considered a crime against people and not just property.
The proposals suggest shorter sentences could be handed out if burglars are shown to be acting 'on impulse' or being exploited by others.
Jail could be ditched in favour of community punishments if drug and alcohol abusers convince the court they are trying to break their addiction.
If there are no aggravating features and only minimal damage or loss, offenders should normally be given a community punishment.
Youth offenders will face 12 months detention for a serious offence, but could face up to two years. For lesser offences they will be given rehabilitation orders.
In the ruling Sir Igor said: 'There is a long-standing, almost intuitive belief that our homes should be our castles.
'The concept suggests impregnability and defiance against intrusion.
'Something precious is violated by burglary of a home and those who perpetrate this crime should be sentenced and punished accordingly.'
The Government introduced 'three strikes' laws aimed at tackling burglary in 2000.
But only around a fifth of third-time offenders are given the so-called 'minimum' sentence of three years.
The proportion of convicted burglars sent to jail has fallen from 45 per cent in 1997 to less than 40 per cent last year, and nearly 40 per cent of convicted burglars are given community sentences.
Police figures have showed consecutive increases in burglary offences of 4 per cent in the last two quarters of last year amid fears of a crimewave linked to the recession.
Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said: 'Domestic burglary invariably involves a violation of a person's home and sense of security, so people will be surprised by the suggestion that some domestic burglars should receive community sentences.'
'It is a shocking indictment of our criminal justice system that the sentencing guidelines council thinks drugs addicts who burgle to fund their habit should avoid jail.
'We need proper secure drug treatment so that criminals whose offending is down to their addiction can be both punished and treated.'