The Sentencing Gap: punishment for serious, repeat offenders
Since the financial crisis began, the courts have failed to lock up an increasing number of serious, repeat offenders. 64.9% of those convicted of serious offences who already had more than 10 previous convictions or cautions avoided prison in 2011/12 – 91,032 offenders. This is higher than the total prison population. Tens of thousands of repeat offenders are instead receiving fines, community service or a fully suspended sentence for crimes such as violence against the person, theft and sexual offences.
The key findings of the report are:
- In 2011/12, 68,100 received a penalty other than prison for a serious offence despite 15 or more previous convictions or cautions. This compares to 49,729 in 2006/07 – a 38% increase.
- A total of 108,119 serious offenders had 15 or more previous convictions/cautions, meaning 62.9% of them avoided prison
- The number of serious offenders who avoided prison despite more than 10 previous convictions/cautions rose from 71,301 in 2006/07 to 91,032 in 2011/12. This is higher than the total prison population of 83,825 and represents a 27% increase.
- A total of 140,168 serious offenders had more than 10 previous convictions/cautions, meaning 64.9% of them avoided prison.
- The number of fully suspended sentences increased 31-fold for those with 15 or more previous convictions/cautions in the decade since 2001/02, from 270 to 8,284.
- 11,810 serious offenders were discharged in 2011/12 although they had 15 or more previous convictions/cautions – a 30% rise from 9,086 in 2006/07. This is in spite of statute laying down that courts may discharge offenders only in those cases where “it is inexpedient to inflict punishment”.
- 20,879 received a community sentence for a serious offence after 15 or more previous convictions/cautions – a 47% rise from 14,236 in 2006/07.
- 16,111 received a fine for a serious offence after 15 or more previous convictions/cautions – a 44% rise from 11,226 in 2006/07.
- Of the minority who did go to prison for a serious offence in 2011/12, the average sentence was only 1 year 5 months.