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Number of criminals given immediate custodial sentences at lowest level for a decade

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The number of convicted criminals who are sent straight to jail is at its lowest level for a decade, despite crime rising steadily over the same period, the latest figures have revealed.

Last year 75,800 people, who were found guilty in the courts, received custodial sentences, down from more than 80,700 in 2009.

During the same period there has been a 12 per cent rise in the number of fines handed out, as judges opt for softer sentencing options.

An analysis of Ministry of Justice figures shows how the proportion of convictions that result in a prison sentence has fallen from 7.3 per cent of all cases in 2009 to 6.4 per cent last year.

At the same time the proportion of guilty verdicts or pleas that ended in the offender getting a fine went up from 66.3 per cent to 77.6 per cent.

The fall in the number of prison sentences being handed out comes against a backdrop of soaring crime, over the last decade, including sharp increases in violent and sexual offences, robbery and burglary.

Even with crime rising and law and order being at the centre of many people’s concerns, the latest figures also revealed how fewer criminals are now being dealt with by the justice system, than at any time since records began.

Between July 2018 and June 2019 a total of 1.58 million went through the system in England and Wales compared to 1.86 million in 1970.

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said it was deeply concerning that repeat offenders were escaping custodial sentences and said it was a constant source of frustration for officers.

He said: “Violent crime is increasing but the number of offenders who are being sent to prison is decreasing and this is a huge frustration for police officers who work hard to bring these people to justice.

“Often we have repeat violent offenders who are not seeing the inside of a prison cell. While I am a supporter of rehabilitation and accept that not everyone needs to go to prison, there are some people out there who need to be locked up.

“The system needs to listen to society and society is saying that we want to see offenders pay for their crimes. Without suitable and appropriate prison sentences, there is simply no deterrent for repeat offenders. My colleagues are incredibly frustrated at the way victims are constantly being let down.”

Richard Atkins QC, chairman of the Bar Council, described the figures as a “major concern”, adding: “The inescapable fact is that the disproportionate cuts to the criminal justice budget over many years has broken the system.

“Only a considerable investment in the criminal justice system by the next government will reverse the damage and restore public confidence.”

Caroline Goodwin QC, chairwoman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “Protecting the public from harm is a basic, core duty any government has to the public and, quite rightly, the public expect that duty to be fulfilled.

“Talk by politicians about being ‘tough on law and order’ remains just that until substantial investment is made all the way through the system – not just in the police, but the CPS, criminal legal aid defence, courts and parole service so reported offences are properly investigated, then charged, prosecuted and brought to trial in a timely manner.

“Anything less won’t do. The public cannot be short-changed.”

According to the Ministry of Justice figures, there has also been a rise in the number of less serious offences that are now making up the cases going before the courts.

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