Situational analysis

Custodial sentencing of minor offenders

High cost

The cost of handing down custodial sentences for minor crimes is regrettably very high. However, there is evidence that community interventions reduce cost and re-offending. A recent analysis showed that the cost of community-based intervention over prison ranged from slightly over 3,000 pounds to 88,000 pounds per offender depending on the nature of the community intervention.

Inappropriate handing down of custodial sentences

Custodial sentences are usually handed down to people who commit minor crimes. It has been found that the largest number of people jailed are those whose offences are in relation to theft and handling.

Prison overcrowding contributor

People who commit minor offences have been contributing significantly to prison overcrowding in the UK. The Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said too many people were being jailed for minor offences, contributing to prison overcrowding, which also means that serious criminals were being denied the rehabilitation they needed. However, according to the Scottish Executive Social Research (2007), there is acknowledgement that prison is not the answer for most minor crimes (especially first offences).

High re-offending rate

The reconviction rates of most of the people imprisoned to serve short sentences or minor crimes have increased sharply.

Distraction of serious cases

Petty crime appears to occupy the court space so much so that it distracts the courts from hearing serious cases. According to the Louise Casey1  (2010) “murder and child abuse trials suffer delay as jury trials for petty crimes ‘clog up’ courts”. Casey added that serious crimes were being “stacked up waiting for court time” as defendants charged with such minor offences as theft of tea bags and biscuits costing 24 pounds were waiting for trials at the crown court.

Community order sentencing of minor offences

  • Compulsory unpaid community work
  • Taking part in particular activities including education or training
  • Participation in Offending Behaviour Programmes
  • Participation in community rehabilitation activities such as residence, probation centre attendance (providing structured activities), drugs and testing or treatment of alcohol and mental health problems.
  • Prevention from taking part in certain activities, and
  • Observing electronic curfew

Electronic monitoring

This requires an offender to stay at a specific address at particular times often overnight. The electronic monitoring involves wearing a ‘tag’ on the ankle by way of:

  • radio frequency technology, which draws the attention of the monitoring company in the event that the offender goes ‘out of range’ normally away from residence;
  • satellite tracking technology, which uses the GPS system to track the whereabouts of an offender who leaves his or her home address.