If the government wants fewer people to serve short prison sentences, it should ensuring that effective community sentences are available everywhere, writes John Bache

Rory Stewart (Interview, 23 January) is correct that short sentences are largely ineffective in reducing reoffending and should be used as rarely as possible. Sentencing guidelines used by magistrates are, however, already clear that custody must be only be used when there is no appropriate alternative. The proposed “presumption against” short prison sentences would therefore be unlikely to make any significant difference. Indeed, this has been demonstrated in Scotland, where a government evaluation of the impact of their recently introduced presumption against short prison sentences found that in practice it has had a minimal impact on sentencing decisions.

If the Ministry of Justice wants to see fewer short sentences, its focus should instead be on ensuring that effective community sentences, including appropriate options for women and treatment for people with mental health, drug or alcohol problems, are available in every area of the country. Magistrates should also be given the power to review the progress made by an offender serving a community sentence. This would enable us to impose community sentences with confidence, knowing that they will help offenders to turn their lives around.
John Bache
National chair, Magistrates Association

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