Serious criminals to serve longer jail terms in sentencing overhaul

Serious criminals will serve at least two-thirds of their jail terms amid Government plans for a huge sentencing overhaul.

Community punishments including 20-hour-a-day curfews and the use of satellite monitoring for convicted burglars are also among measures set out in the shake-up of sentencing powers.

The Sentencing White Paper also contains measures aimed at helping rehabilitate offenders, with more flexible community orders allowing them to carry on working in the week and reducing the time before a conviction is “spent”.

Announcing the shake-up on Wednesday, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said sentencing failures can perpetuate low-level offenders getting stuck in a life of crime as he called for a “new approach”.

During a speech for the Centre for Social Justice, Mr Buckland said: “This means that offenders have little hope of being rehabilitated and we, as a society, have little hope of ending the cycles of crime in which any one of us can become victims.

“That is a failure, letting down everyone concerned. Aside from the social impact, it is also a waste of money, with the cost of re-offending running into the billions every year. We need a new approach.”

Mr Buckland told the online audience the White Paper being put forward by the Government was an “opportunity to grow trust and confidence in the sentencing system – in its ability to make the smart choices to protect the public from the harmful effects of crime, in whatever form they take”.

He said the public “rightly expects child killers to feel the fullest and harshest extent of the law”, adding: “We will therefore ensure a Whole Life Order is not just available to sentencers in these cases but that it will be their starting point.

“In exceptional circumstances we will also give judges the discretion to impose a Whole Life Order on those aged 18 to 20, where currently only those aged 21 or over may receive this severest of punishments.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already said the reforms will make it easier for “judges to put dangerous offenders behind bars for longer”.

Adult offenders given life sentences in other circumstances would also spend longer behind bars before they can be assessed for release under the plans, Mr Buckland added.

But he said there must also be efforts to intervene to prevent low-level and repeat offenders from “going back and forth to prison, for short custodial sentences that hold little rehabilitative value for them”.

He said: “Offenders in this category often live chaotic lifestyles, sometimes driven by drug and alcohol misuse, or poor mental health.

“Their backgrounds are often characterised by entrenched poverty, absent role models, and a lack of any decent education.

“This makes for bleak prospects and many offenders believe they have few options but to get involved in criminality.

“There is no doubt that they deserve punishment but, if we are to have any chance of turning their lives around – and in the process preventing crime – then we need to divert them towards lives that hold the promise of the things we all want from life – a place to call home, meaningful work, a future that’s better than the past.

“If we’re going to offer offenders opportunities to work hard towards these things, then we must identify their individual needs and ensure the sentencing toolkit is able to meet them.”

Under the plans, electronic tagging could be used more – for up to 20 hours a day – to enforce curfews and for up to two years instead of 12 months, he said.

He continued: “These changes will encourage compliance with orders of the court and will allow sentencers to address more serious repeat offending with increased restrictions.”

The measures will also seek to produce “high-quality” pre-sentence reports (PSR) to give “crucial insights” into an offender’s history and behaviour.

Mr Buckland said: “More information being available also reduces the space for assumptions to creep in, which, too often, can be the entry point for stereotyping.

“Evidence suggests that some offenders are sent for short custodial sentences without a PSR ever being produced.

“We will now pilot new ways of delivering high-quality PSRs, identifying the offenders who would benefit most.”

Mr Buckland also said the changes would “encourage courts to look at other alternatives to custody”, such as deferred sentencing in a bid to divert offenders away from crime and look at ways of simplifying the system to save court time and taxpayers’ money.

He hailed the “innovative” idea of five “problem-solving” courts, pledging that these would take a “completely new approach to dealing with low-level offending”.

Mr Buckland also said it was time to make a “concerted effort” to address the approach to offenders with conditions like autism and dyslexia, adding: “If a neurodivergent condition and its associated needs are not recognised as early as possible and appropriate interventions put in place, then it can set up a chain reaction for the offender, cascading failure throughout the system.

“This is not frankly their fault but the effects on their lives and their life chances can be devastating.”