David Cameron proposes stronger community sentences


24 February 2012

by James Daniels

David Cameron has mooted plans to increase the sanctions faced by offenders given non-custodial sentences, in order to further deter would-be criminals and dispel the notion of community sentences being a weak alternative to jail time.

Downing Street has proposed the ideas to the Ministry of Justice, seemingly as a counter to criticisms of the coalition’s stance on crime, which is seen by many to lack any sense of coherence.

The Prime Minister’s intention is to turn a non-custodial sentence into a ‘virtual prison’. Under the new guidelines, offenders could have their driving license, passport and any credit cards taken, greatly limiting their freedom.

Judges and magistrates would also have the power to impose extensive curfews, ordering that offenders be electronically tagged and made to stay in their homes for up to sixteen hours a day.

As well as deterring potential offenders, Downing Street hopes that the extra penalties will convince judges and magistrates to hand down more custodial sentences, reducing the strain on prisons and their ever-rising population.

However, the Ministry of Justice has warned that the new penalties could make it virtually impossible for offenders to comply. There is already evidence that authorities are struggling to enforce the existing guidelines – of the 198,725 non-custodial sentences and early release from prison licenses that ended last year, one in four were not completed successfully.

With reports of ministers looking to give jail time to those who violate their community orders, the tougher guidelines could push the prison population to even greater heights.

Downing Street and the MoD continue to negotiate over the proposals – documents outlining the consultation are not expected for another six weeks.

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