In the Media

Stronger community sentences for criminals, Ken Clarke says

PUBLISHED March 28, 2012

Kenneth Clarke has outlined plans to strengthen sentencing powers amid concerns current punishments are too lenient.

His proposals promise criminals will receive "at least one form of punishment element in every sentence", including unpaid work, fines and driving bans.

They pledge a "more creative use of electronic monitoring," with tags using GPS to track offenders through a website.

The devices are currently being trialled by police forces throughout England and Wales, with studies in Hertfordshire already showing a drop in burglaries of 16 per cent.

Kenneth Clarke, justice secretary, said: "All too often community sentences are seen as an easy option, sometimes just a weekly meeting with a probation officer or a few hours of unpaid work in an entire week. This is inadequate.

"That is why we are overhauling community sentences to ensure they are tough, credible and robust.

"Criminals must be punished for their crimes, they must pay back to communities and victims for their crimes and they must be reformed.

"If we can get criminals to return to a law abiding way of life, we stop them committing more crime against more victims.

The stringent new sentencing proposals have already attracted some criticism, as an impact assessment by the Ministry of Justice itself admitted they could potentially increase reoffending.

The report said: "Given a limit on the overall level of resources available for probation services, and the need for sentences to remain proportionate to the seriousness of the offending, delivering top end community orders may cause a number of primarily rehabilitative requirements to be substituted for primarily punitive ones.

"For offenders who receive intensive community punishment, there is a risk that re-offending rates may be higher than other community orders if some of the rehabilitative requirements are replaced."

It added that the tough new sentences may also lead to "some intangible benefits arising from a greater level of public confidence in the criminal justice system, and from justice being seen to be done".

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "When it comes to law and order, there is always a risk that politicians will confuse toughness with effectiveness.

"Tough-sounding policies and Big Brother electronics will grab headlines but, if you're serious about getting people to behave responsibly and determined to cut crime even further, then there's no substitute for intensive supervision of offenders by well-trained professionals, and restorative justice for victims."

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan added: "Managing criminals in the community is not the appropriate option for the most serious and violent offenders, and we will oppose any moves that would lead to this.

"These changes could lead to more breaches, and thus more cost as offenders are sent back to prison."