Clear Prison Sentences
A honest and consistent approach to sentencing is vital to get real public confidence in the criminal justice system. We need a punishment and rehabilitation regime that makes sense to ordinary people, and which is fair, transparent and effective.
To support this aim the Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government have done a number of things:
- Conducted a full review of sentencing policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending
- Maintained the public's freedom by ensuring that the DNA of innocent people will no longer be kept on the national database
- Introduced legislation that will treat historical convictions for consensual gay sex with over- 16s as spent and no longer part of a criminal record
- Launched a review of the extradition treaty with the USA so it is even-handed and so that UK citizens are not extradited without proper evidence. Liberal Democrat MP and former Party Leader Ming Campbell is chairing this review.
To ensure the public have confidence and trust in the sentencing procedures of the criminal justice system, policy on sentencing must be honest, clear and straightforward - sentences must do what they say on the tin and non-custodial sentences should be beefed up to give a real alternative to jail.
There should be four categories of sentence :-
- Public Service Sentences:
- More non-violent criminals, such as shoplifters, some fine defaulters and petty vandals, should receive a Public Service Sentence, requiring them to do tough community work as an alternative to jail, with a large element of Restorative justice. These sentences will reduce re-offending and give offenders skills for legitimate work. They should be run by a new Community Sentence Enforcement Service, which would help restore public confidence and free up probation officers to supervise serious offenders.
- Fixed Term Sentences:
- For offenders sent to prison, there should be Fixed Term Sentences with the minimum and maximum term announced by the judge in open court. Offenders would be eligible for parole after the minimum term, and granted release on the say-so of a parole board.
- Public Safety Sentence - Indefinite imprisonment with a minimum term:
- Very serious offenders there should be receive a Public Safety Sentence of indefinite imprisonment with a minimum term - similar to the current "life" sentence. After serving the minimum term set out by the judge, release would only be agreed after a hearing by a Parole Board.
- Life Custody:
- The most serious offenders should serve Life Custody, where the judge considered the offender should never be released. This currently applies to only a handful of inmates - but calling a short sentence "life" is just spin. The word should only be used for whole-life sentences.
Notes:- Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or just punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, "to repair the harm they've done-by apologising and then making amends for the harm done by returning stolen money or repairing the actual damage, or doing some other form of community service". Restorative justice involves both victim and offender and focuses on their personal needs. In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offences. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offence against an individual or community, rather than the state. Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability.