23 June 2011

Why sentencing policy is irrelevant

Ken Clarke has taken a lot of stick for his proposals - unceremoniously dumped earlier this week - to offer larger discounts from jail sentences for those offenders who plead guilty.

The proposals were dropped as part of a new 'get tough' package by PM David Cameron which included various tabloid friendly headlines about making prisoners work harder and longer.

But it really doesn't matter because the vast majority of crime in the country goes undetected and the perpetrators unpunished. According to Home Office figures (which unsurprisingly are somewhat difficult to find on their website), in 2009/10 just 28% of all crimes reported in England and Wales were successfully solved by the police.

For violent crimes against the person the police solve 44% of cases, just 24% of rape cases, 16% of house burglary and just 11% of vehicle crime.

So until the police can actually start catching criminals - how the courts sentence them won't matter. Deterrence by punitive sentencing doesn't work when criminals know they have a 60% 70% chance of getting away with it.

This is a huge opportunity for Lib Dems in government to move the debate onto more liberal territory. So it's time for Lynne Featherstone and Tom McNally to start the debate about effective policing and crime prevention, rather than allowing the Tories to rehash stale headlines about jail sentences.

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