Friday, August 04, 2006

Custody Minus

The Telegraph
confirms what I have been saying for some time, that the sentencing reforms that were a key feature of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act are dead in the water. It is typical of the Government's approach to introduce radical reforms without thinking through the resource implications. The Probation Service is struggling to cope with its present workload, and insiders say that it will be some years before NOMS (the combined prison and probation services) has any chance to settle down. The thousands of offenders requiring programmes under Custody Plus would have been the last straw. In addition, although nobody is admitting it, there is a strong suspicion that the community element of the sentences would have been widely breached in between a quarter and a half of cases, resulting in an insupportable surge in the prison population.

There is no certainly that Custody Plus will be resurrected soon, or indeed ever. That leaves the question of magistrates' sentencing powers. There is real benefit to be had from allowing us to do more of the low-to-medium level work that is dealt with by the Crown Court. A surprisingly large proportion of cases that we send up receive sentences of less than the 12 months that magistrates were to have been allowed to impose. I have a feeling that this one will be quietly allowed to simmer on the back burner until a time when the politicians and civil servants involved in this fiasco have moved on.

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