Soft justice: Thousands of career criminals spared prison in British Coalition's first year

The number of career criminals being spared jail has soared since the Coalition took office.

An astonishing 4,000 offenders have been handed community sentences, despite each totting up at least 50 convictions.

The figure for 2010 – the year Ken Clarke took over as Justice Secretary – was 17 per cent higher than 2009’s and treble that of 2002.

Incredibly, 408 criminals dodged jail last year even when being sentenced for what was at least their 100th offence.

Earlier this year, the Daily Mail revealed that the percentage of all convicted criminals sent to jail had fallen since the Coalition took over last May.

Rapists, drug-dealers, muggers, drink-drivers and thugs caught with knives and guns were all more likely to receive soft community sentences.

If the sentencing standards of 2009 had been applied last year, more than 2,000 extra criminals would have gone to jail.

Critics of the criminal justice system say pressure is being put on courts by Mr Clarke to jail fewer people because prisons are close to overflowing.

The Justice Secretary wants to scrap most terms of under six months and replace them with community sentences – meaning more repeat offenders will be let off.

Conservative MP Priti Patel said: ‘Clearly when you have got serial criminals and repeat offenders causing such harm the Government has got to start addressing the issue.

‘It is not acceptable that these people are being given community sentences when they should be locked up. The Government needs to tackle this situation; these are people who need to be locked away in prison to keep the public safe.

‘If there is a need for more prison places then we need to build more prisons. Prisons are about protecting people on the outside from the vile criminals who are being kept behind bars.’

The latest figures show that the proportion of offenders escaping jail with 50 convictions or more has risen from 0.5 per cent in 2002 to 1.5 per cent last year.

Some 3,898 criminals fell into that bracket in 2010, compared with 3,333 the year before and 1,238 in 2002.

Last year the Daily Mail revealed that the worst of the repeat offenders to be spared jail had a 50-year criminal record and 578 previous convictions or cautions.

These included 300 offences of theft as well as burglary, robbery, assault, possessing offensive weapons and public order crimes.

Conservative MP Philip Davies, who uncovered those statistics, said: ‘This shows that the criminal justice system has become a joke. It shows that despite what Justice Secretary Ken Clarke would have us believe, we have too few people in prison, not too many.’

Criminologist Dr David Green, director of the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘This rise in the number of career criminals escaping jail has been caused by political pressure from the Government to reduce the prison population. Judges and magistrates are failing in their basic duty to protect the public.

'If someone has been convicted even three or four times, jail should be considered. But these are people being convicted 50 or 100 times. It should be obvious that for these people, this is how they make a living.

‘And we should remember that not all crimes are detected. The Home Office admits that for every conviction, the offender has committed five more. So someone being convicted 50 times has in fact carried out at least 300 – and I think that’s an underestimate.’

Mr Clarke wants to replace sentences of six or fewer months – given to around 50,000 criminals a year – with ‘tougher community sentences’.

Last year he claimed: ‘Simply banging up more and more people for longer without actively seeking to change them is not going to protect the public. ‘I do not think prison is, or should be, a numbers game.

‘The army of short-term prisoners we have at the moment, who have a particularly bad record of reoffending within six months of being released, is too big and we’ve got to find some sensible community sentences.’

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: ‘Sentencing in individual cases is rightly a matter for the courts to decide.’


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