Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Tough - Like, Really Tough

If you do a Google UK search for "Tough Community Sentences" you get over 650 links returned. The phrase returns time after time in Government announcements, and it has turned up again in the detail of the Queen's Speech, in the second bullet point. Of course it is nonsense. Every time that the Government runs up against the reality of crammed prisons and its inability to build its way out of trouble in the short and medium term it says: "Ah, but this time we are going to make community sentences tough, really really tough. Honestly. So tough that they will protect the public really well. Honestly. Yes I know we have announced tougher community sentences many times in the last decade, but this time we mean it." How many people think that withdrawing the option of a suspended prison sentence for summary-only offences was driven by the needs of justice, rather than panic at over-full prisons?
How are we supposed to sentence the sixth-time Drive Disqualified, or the third-time drink driver? A Suspended Sentence Order with appropriate requirements such as unpaid work served to punish and deter. Take away the deterrence, and what do we have?
Common Assault is the usual charge in Domestic Violence cases, and that too is summary-only. One of the available community requirements is the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme (IDAP) to address the underlying issues. First Class. But the programmes are nearly all full, and there can be a wait of many months to get an offender on to one (this applies to a number of programmes). Once the punishment is decoupled from arrest and convictions by months or years it increasingly ceases to mean anything to the offender.
So next time you hear that phrase, "tough community sentences" spare a thought for an old JP hurling abuse at the radio. Bah!

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