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I think honesty in sentencing is a must. Everyone is then clear as to what is happening.

This should not, though, be seen as a golden bullet to solve the criminal justic esystem's undoubted problems in one fail swoop.

If we are going to continue to advocate incarceration as the best solution (and i'm not 100% sure this is the right way to go), we would need to spend billions of pounds on buildings prisons fit for the twenty-first century (and renovating those already built).

We can't just lock people up and forget about them for the duration of their sentence, whatever that may be. I know some schemes are in place, but much more needs to be done to cater for proper rehabilitation.

So, I support this particular policy, but only as a means to an end.


It only takes a few minutes on the Home Office website to work out that there is a ludicrous mismatch between the millions upon millions of crimes recorded each year and the paltry prison population of around 75 thousand. The latter figure is even dwarfed by the number of serious violent offences and sex crimes committed in a single year. There are clearly two factors at work here: not enough effort is being made to find and convict these criminals, and they are not spending long enough in prison. This policy is an excellent start at tackling the latter deficiency.

With regard to what I might be permitted to call "prison theory," there is much emphasis on the further crime prevention and rehabilitation aspects these days, to the detriment of the notion of punishment.

There are a couple of ways of illustrating why this ought not to be the case. Firstly, if you punch me and break my nose/burgle my house/crash into my car drunk, I am not particularly bothered about whether you will be prevented from doing it to someone else for a while or whether you learn the error of your ways due to some rehabilition programme (or indeed whether you study for an open university degree or receive fair wages on a state farm).

What does concern me is that you are punished. Otherwise I will lose faith in the state's ability to exercise justice and the state will commensurately lose its authority to dispense it.

To put it another way, we should look at the case of Jeffrey Archer. He was not sent to jail to keep him from committing perjury for a couple of years, nor to rehabilitate him. He was simply punished - justly - and so it should be. We must not lose sight of that in our deliberations.

Bob B

We not only have a record number of people in prison, we also have the largest per capita prison population in all Western Europe:

The way I figure it, we really ought to worry more about this:

"An investigation shows that conviction rates for many of the most violent crimes have been in freefall since Labour came to power in 1997 and are now well below 10 per cent. The chronically low figures for convictions come at the same time as reports that violent crime is increasing. An analysis of Home Office figures reveals that only 9.7 per cent of all 'serious woundings', including stabbings, that are reported to the police result in a conviction. For robberies the figure falls to 8.9 per cent and for rape, it is 5.5 per cent."

"Conviction rates for serious offences such as wounding and rape are too low, the Attorney General has admitted."

Not much point in protracted debates about the appropriate length of prison sentences if criminals are not being arrested and convicted. With such low conviction rates, crime obviously does pay.

The problem of (compulsive and recidivist) paedophiles is not unique to Britain. It makes to sense to compare notes with other peer group countries to see if any have developed effective policies for dealing with the problem.


First policy I felt compelled to vote for; needs fine tuning but definite - yes

Denis Cooper

Ah, aristeides, are you sure that you wouldn't prefer the offender to come round to your house so you can explain to him how much you were hurt by his actions, and he can apologise and promise never to do it again (until next time)? Are you sure that you really want that old-fashioned "retribution"? So would I, in fact, but I would also want his sentence to be a deterrent to others, and to involve a serious attempt at reform and rehabilitation, and in appropriate cases I would want him taken out of circulation for a time so we could all have a rest from his activities.


"Not much point in protracted debates about the appropriate length of prison sentences if criminals are not being arrested and convicted." Bob B

Surely the reverse is true as well though. There is not much point in arresting and convicting criminals if you aren't going to punish them properly for the crime.


Yes, Denis. Other than deterrence, which is the natural flipside of punishment, those are by-products of the system though. First of all, there must be justice. It can be called retribution or whatever but I think the logic of my examples stands. I await the day when any lefty uses the opposite arguments to say the Jeffery Archer should not have been jailed.

Richard Cooke

I have worked in law enforcement in this country for the last 6 years. Sentencing is a complete joke, it has been for years - and lets be honest it was'nt much different under previous administrations, going right back to the abolition of capital punishment in the 60's.We are right, but the fact is we must go a great deal further. I am annoyed with the nonsense talked about "restorative justice" and rehabilitation these days. The justice system has forgotten the prerequisite for these things, namely Retribution. If this is not done and seen to be done then all other approaches will fail. I would suggest severe MINIMUM custodial sentences set by law for such crimes as those under the Theft Act, homicide, violence and Drugs offences. I would also suggest that prison is made to be a terrifying ordeal for offenders where privileges are earned rather than seen as a "right". For this the Human Rights Act needs binning ASAP.
The Tories have a massive opportunity on law and order, particularly in Labours industrial heartlands, and the regions where I live and work. We must not allow ourselves to acquiesce any longer in the left wing consensus on crime, which masquerades as the being the centrist's view. It clearly is not.
It is not extreme to want punishments to fit the crime, to make the police feared rather than derided as a toothless attack dog, or to make prison a place no one would ever risk going back to again.
I can think of numerous criminals who have been convicted literally tens of times over during the 6 years i have spent in law enforcement (even in a system heavily stacked in favour of the defendant). They have all had the obligatory community sentences, drug rehabilitation orders, and short pointless custodial sentences many times over. They have cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands in police, probation, court and needlessly expensive prison costs. Not to mention the countless victims of their misdeeds.
If they had been sent down for 6 years the day after I first arrested them and sent to a prison fit for purpose I think we would have had a much happier place to live in, and D.C would have to be impressed with that.

Paul D

Similar to Londoner's views - I think we could do worse than adopt a system similar to some US judges' sentences and hand down a sentence of "no more than x and no less than y" - thus an honest sentence can be set with eligibility for early release remaining in place in the case of prisoner reform and good behaviour

Eleanor McHugh

Retribution is important to the victims of crime Mr. Cooke, but surely what matters to the rest of society is that a criminal does not re-offend after that retribution has been exacted. The criminal justice system must thus address both of these needs, not pander to one or the other.

The problem with the system today is that it addresses neither need and too many criminals either fail to be convicted in the first place, or when they are convicted they receive neither adequate punishment nor a genuine opportunity to reform.

Jamie Dowling

Sentencing is a joke. Drug addicts, thieves, the violent and the racists (and they aren't always white people either) are allowed to roam the streets laughing in the face of the law. My sister used to work for the CPS and the time she spent there has changed her views radically.

She has no confidence in the judicial system at all. She would bring back the death penalty for murders and drug dealing, castration for sex offenders (no injections here, cleaver time!), increases in sentences, more prisons fit for purpose and harsher conditions in them. Rehabilitation is a joke in her view - the majority of criminals do not want to reform, they want to do their time and get back outside to do what they do best.

Time off for good behaviour and for admitting guilt is a wasted effort. Sentences should be extended in the event of bad behaviour.

Her harshest words are reserved for defence barristers. Why, if they know the criminal they are representing is guilty, do they seek to keep him or her in society? I won't put here what she wants to happen to them, but it is not at all pleasant.

All this from someone who wouldn't hurt a fly before she started working at the CPS. Working there has hardened her heart to an extent I would never have thought possible.

The system is a mess and needs a very firm hand to sort it out. But let's make sure we have a proper debate on all of the issues related to this. It needs sensible legislation, not knee jerk legislation which criminalises large groups of people.

The police should not be feared - Britain is not an extremist state - but they should be respected (that's a different story for another time though).

Patsy Sergeant

It may sound impractical, idealistic, or whatever else you like to call it, but I would guess I would not be the only person to think this would be a good idea!!!!

When a criminal - that HAS been sentenced for a crime is let out early and immediately commits the same crime again, and the crime is a capital crime, then whoever else is responsible for the early release of that criminal (I use that word on purpose!), should also be considered at fault. If a judge, as in the case of the child rapist in Wales insists on pronouncing a short sentence and then the criminal is released even earlier, then that judge should also be liable for some sort of penalty. Outrageous that may well seem to the legal profession who have been immune for too long (at all levels) for taking responsibility for their quirky individual ideas - and I am quite aware that there are set tariffs etc: for set crimes, but there is some lee-way. I am also well aware that the members of the legal profession are supposed to be monitored by their own professional body and of course can be disbarred, but and I think it is a big BUT, as with the medical profession, these august body's are not stringent enough! How many doctors who have caused death by careless practice in hospital have been struck off - in recent cases, very few that I can think of.

I also think that the government itself should sometimes be directly accountable when some crazy policy that they have been responsible for introducing causes some serious consequencies. And I am not talking about the ballot box - a useless way of ensuring the a government is accountable!

Richard Cooke

My point, Ms McHugh with regards to retribution is that this should be the fundamental basis where sentencing should begin, but not where it should necessarily end. I am not against rehabilitating offenders. But retribution must be the first principle for the justice system to address, if it is to have any credibility. I would argue that sentencing policy has lost this principle almost completely in the modern era. Retribution as a principle has been usurped in this country, and this is why victims are so aggrieved, rightly so. A crime against one is a crime against all, this is how it must be seen, because ANYONE can be victim. The benefits of real justice therefore reach everyone.

 Ian Williamson

For a penal system to operate successfully and have public support, it must do three things.
First, it should be sufficiently punitive to make prison an unacceptable consequence of criminal activity. Secondly, it must satisfy the public’s justifiable and understandable need for retribution -- to feel that justice has truly been done. Thirdly, for those in prison, there needs to be some incentive both to behave and reform. There has to be, for those convicted of particularly violent crimes, for instance, a willingness to impose draconian punishment.
Suppose there were three stages in the sentence to be served by a man given 15 years for a particularly violent or nasty crime or series of such crimes. They could run like this:
Stage one: 5 years in a “Strict regime” prison. A harsh routine of rising at 6am, minimal comforts, restricted association, compulsory work routine and early to bed. I’m thinking wistfully of the American chain-gang but there have to be limits, damn it!! Remission operates after two-thirds of that period, when transfer to a conventional prison becomes available. Remission is only available subject to good behaviour.
Stage 2: 5 years in a conventional prison and remission available after two-thirds completion. However any sufficiently bad behaviour would return the prisoner to the “Strict regime” prison and the remaining sentence re-calculated on the three-stage principle. Otherwise, transfer to an open prison.
Stage 3: Sentence completed in the open prison, with opportunity and active encouragement to prepare for re-engaging with society. Any suitably bad behaviour would simply mean those 5 years would be re-calculated and the process would start again. The point is that with good behaviour, the convict would serve only around 10 years but the experience would certainly not be one he’d want to repeat.

Obviously, most crimes wouldn’t attract such a harsh punishment and indeed, many of those convicted of manslaughter wouldn’t necessarily attract it either, nor would murder itself necessarily do it; circumstances do indeed alter cases. Where long sentences are quite justifiably handed out to criminals whose crimes offend and outrage the public, the public must feel that the punishment meted out is fitting. Anything which fails to make hardened or would-be criminals frightened of the consequences of their actions, fails all of us.

John Peters

I think this is a bad policy.
I agree with clarity in sentencing, though actually this government has improved the information given when sentences are passed. We are now told how much time served a prisoner will do.
This proposal would mean either that judges reduced the sentence to what is now being served or that there would be a dramatic increase of all sentences. It would reduce the powers of prison governors, as there would be no time off for good behaviour. It would remove the licence held over released prisoners who currently have to behave or be reincarcerated.
If there is a need for greater clarity about actual time served, then that should be addressed. If people feel that sentences for some crimes should be increased, then they should say which ones and by how much.
This populist, ill thought out, unworkable proposal is just the sort of thing we have seen from the current government over the last 9 years.

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Great article.

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