Courts urged to jail fewer people

Corby Magistrates Court

Corby Magistrates Court

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Magistrates in Northamptonshire have been urged to send fewer people to prison.

The plea, from the Howard League for Penal Reform, comes as figures reveal magistrates in the county are more likely to impose custodial sentences than elsewhere in the country.

The Howard League says people convicted of a crime face a postcode lottery when they are sentenced.

Northamptonshire courts imposed custodial sentences in 6.5 per cent of cases they heard in 2011, compared to a national average of just 3.8 per cent.

But Kettering’s Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said county magistrates should be commended on the figures.

Yesterday (Thursday, April 25) he asked for a debate in Parliament on magistrates’ courts, adding: “Such a debate would allow me and other Northamptonshire MPs to praise magistrates in Northamptonshire, including the Kettering bench, for their effective use of sentencing powers.”

Magistrates’ courts in Northamptonshire handed down 11,961 sentences to men, women and children in 2011, of which 775 were custodial.

The maximum sentence a magistrates’ court can impose is a six-month prison term, or up to 12 months in total for more than one offence.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “One cannot ignore the striking disparity in sentencing trends between different criminal justice areas.

“A short-term prison sentence is a catastrophe for everyone.

“It does not help change the life of the person sentenced – indeed, it is likely to compound issues such as drug addiction and make them more likely to re-offend.

“It costs the taxpayer a fortune and it does nothing to help victims, who get no recompense or easing of trauma.

“A court which imposes short prison sentences increases the likelihood of local people becoming victims of crime, because the failure rate is so high.”