Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Only 3 in 10 burglars end up in prison

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Various papers (the Telegraph, the Mirror and the Daily Express) report on the fact that only 3 in 10 burglars are given custodial sentences, with 4 being given cautions. Presumably the other 3 get a Community Order. I’m not going to comment on whether this is good or  bad- I trust the judges enough to make sure that people get given the most appropriate sentence. There are, however, a few issues worth commenting on.

The Telegraph reports the numbers in a fairly obscure way but basically, from what I can tell, 30% of burglars go to prison, 25% get a caution and presumably, the remaining 45% get suspended sentence orders or community orders. So, in other words, 75% of burglars are given a formal punishment and almost half of burglars are given a community sentence.  The Mirror only reports on young burglars and says that only 1 in ten get sent to prison. Considering young people who go to prison tend to end up committing more, and more serious, crimes in the future than other young people (even when other factors are taken into account) this is probably a good thing. The Express confuses things even more by saying that ‘of the 20,457 burglars apprehended in 2007, a total of 2,497 received nothing more than “a slap on the wrist”. So, according to the Express only 12% of burglars get a caution. None of the three papers in question quote the same figures so I don’t really know what it means!

What is clear is that all three papers equate a community sentence with a soft option. This means two things:

  1. The media doesn’t have any faith in community sentences which probably means they don’t much about them- people on probation orders are subject to strict conditions involving giving up lots of their time. The punishments can be a very effective way of showing offenders that their behaviour is not tolerable but also by doing productive things with them such as offering drug treatment, doing voluntary work, etc…
  2. The government hasn’t been very successful in making people think that community sentences aren’t a soft option despite gimmicks such as community payback jackets and the online consultation into what people want offenders do in their area when on Unpaid Work.

What I think is even more interesting is the contrast of lenient sentences with a perception that this is failing victims:

The alarming figures are a setback for ministers just a day after Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced fresh support for victims of break-ins to secure their homes.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, victim rights vs. punishment is not a zero-sum game. Victims do not necessarily want ‘their offender’ to be punished as severely as possible- this will not make them feel better. We need to make sure that politicians, the judiciary and, most importantly, the media do not try to increase the punishment of burglars in order to improve the rights of victims. Victims so want punishment and in some cases compensation but more often than not, they want emotional reparation- they want to know ‘why did you commit this crime and why did you commit it against me?’ Restorative Justice is probably the most effective way of balancing victims’ rights against offender rights but, despite, the evidence, the government doesn’t seem to want to listen

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Written by criminologyandstuff

April 8, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Posted in criminal justice

One Response

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  1. […] Criminology, probation and stuff put an intriguing blog post on Only 3 in 10 burglars end up in prisonHere’s a quick excerptVarious papers (the Telegraph, the Mirror and the Daily Express) report on the fact that only 3 in 10 burglars are given custodial sentences, with 4 being given cautions. Presumably the other 3 get a Community Order. I’m not going to comment on whether this is good or  bad- I trust the judges enough to make sure that people get given the most appropriate sentence. There are, however, a few issues worth commenting on. The Telegraph reports the numbers in a fairly obscure way but basically, from […]


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