Aimed at cutting crime and restoring public faith in sentencing, the “radical” justice overhaul will see child killers in England and Wales get whole life orders (WLOs), which, if their crimes are judged serious enough, will also extend to 18 to 20-year-olds.
Since 2003, the law has forbidden 18 to 20-year-olds being sentenced to imprisonment for the rest of their lives, no matter what their crime.
Under the new proposals, which will be put forward for legislation next year, many other offenders will stay in prison for at least two-thirds of their sentences and no longer be considered for release halfway through.
Second and Third Strikes
The new sentencing measures, set out in a white paper (pdf) from Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, would also toughen the criteria that allow judges to hand down less than the minimum statutory terms for “second strike” knife possession and “third strike” burglary offenses.
With serious offenses, the public wants to know that the corresponding sentences will keep them safe and better reflect “the gravity of the crimes committed,” Buckland said, addressing the House of Commons.
Buckland highlighted recent terror attacks perpetrated by offenders serving fixed-term sentences who had been released automatically only to commit “horrifying acts of violence” after leaving prison.
The new measures would give judges the power to refer such offenders considered dangerous or posing a terror threat to the parole board for assessment before being set free.
The tougher sentencing measures would “keep offenders who pose a risk to the public off our streets for longer,” Buckland said.
He also said the reforms would make sentencing simpler, more transparent, and stop judges and lawyers having to be “overly focused” on technicalities.
First Duty to the Public
Over the past 30 years, sentencing had become “hugely complex” but “no-where near as effective” with judges sometimes having to impose sentences that seem to make “little sense,” Buckland said in a speech on Wednesday to launch the white paper.
“The first duty of any government is to keep the public safe from harm,” he said.
“It is a responsibility this government takes extremely seriously, and my department has been working on a range of measures to make the sentencing system work better to protect people and to reduce crime.”
Protecting the public also involves improving rehabilitation and cutting re-offending Buckland said.
“Finding new ways to break cycles of crime—to prevent a revolving door of short custodial sentences that we know offer little rehabilitative value,” was important, Buckland told Parliament.
Buckland highlighted the need for “smart interventions” that minimize repeat petty offenders “going back and forth to prison.”
“Offenders in this category often live chaotic lifestyles, sometimes driven by drug and alcohol misuse, or poor mental health,” Buckland said in his speech.
“Their backgrounds are often characterized by entrenched poverty, absent role models, and a lack of any decent education,” he added.
To address repeated low-level offending, the new measures propose a pilot of five “problem-solving” courts, which will take a new approach.
In a bid to address the “sliding scale of increasing inevitability that we cannot ignore,” the pilot will not imprison high needs or frequent low-level offenders.
Instead, it will try “innovative solutions” like “graduated sanction incentives,” Buckland said.
To boost rehabilitation, the new measures include reforms to the disclosures of custodial sentences ex-offenders must make to prospective employers.
With exclusions for serious violence and sexual or terrorist attacks, many sentences under the proposals will become “spent” earlier, and not have to be disclosed.
Mental Health and Housing Concerns
There will also be more support for mental health and treatment for addictions as part of sentencing, and more tagging, curfews, and deferred sentencing as alternatives to prison.
There will also be additional support for offenders with autism and dyslexia, and more empowerment for probation services.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Labour Member of Parliament David Lammy welcomed much of the White Paper, but said reforms would not be enough on their own, citing the homelessness and uncertainty facing ex-offenders as obstacles to rehabilitation.
“Ministry of Justice data show that between 9 June and 31 July this year, nearly a third of prisoners—2,400 people—were released homeless or to an unknown circumstance,” Lammy said.
“How will longer sentences protect the public if people continue to be released homeless and without the chance to turn their lives around?” hRead More – Source