12:43, April 26 301 0 theguardian.com

2018-04-26 12:43:05
We must address rises in custody rate and prison sentence lengths

The Sentencing Council’s warning to the courts that a punitive culture has developed, imposing suspended sentences “as a more severe form of community order” (Report, 23 April), certainly gives cause for concern. But why is the council limiting itself to such issues by focusing only on suspended sentences? The latest Criminal Justice Quarterly Statistics (2018) show that the custody rate for indictable offences rose from 24% in 2010 to 32% in 2017 and that the average custodial sentence has increased steadily from 12.4 months in 2007 to 16.7 months in 2017. Having embraced the concept of punition one looks forward to the council widening its advice to sentencers and addressing both the increased custody rate and the lengthening of prison sentences.

As for the report in your article that probation officers are being “told to cease recommending suspended sentences in pre-sentence reports”, that should seriously concern courts, who have always seen such recommendations as the professional view of the writer and not one prescribed by the diktat of the director of the national probation service, who clearly can have no knowledge of the individual case before the court.

Howard Thomas

Chief probation officer, North Wales, 1985-96

It is of course correct that a suspended prison sentence should not be used when the offending is not sufficiently serious to justify a custodial sentence. They are not, and should not be seen to be, enhanced community orders. If, however, a suspended sentence is given it is essential that any requirements attached to it are tailored to the individual and promote rehabilitation. This means that reports provided by the probation service must be comprehensive and include the information that we need to give the right sentence, one that is in line with sentencing guidelines, appropriate to the seriousness of the offence and also reduces reoffending.

John Bache

National chairman, The Magistrates Association

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