Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.

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Tuesday, 13 December 2016


There is much discussion on Twitter and elsewhere on our overcrowded prisons coupled with the sentencing of juveniles.  There is no doubt that reforming of criminal tendencies is best attempted at the earliest stage possible.  Prison exists to deter, punish, protect the public and rehabilitate.  Many are wailing that increases in custodial sentences especially for juveniles are a cause not an effect of overcrowded jails. Perhaps there is another reason which might at first thought be considerd counter intuitive: prison no longer deters because most sentences including those currently criticised for being too long and those proposed eg for manslaughter (in effect) by dangerous driving are imposed at a rate of 50% in jail and 50% on license. Indeed instructions to magistrates are to pronounce such on the 4% of offenders sentenced to immediate custody in their courts. If there were no assumed 50% reduction or a much smaller percentage had to be earned the immediate deterrent effect would be obvious. Thus paradoxically it is not unlikely that a perceived and actual higher period to be served behind bars would lower the prison population by its deterrence value.  Perhaps the nearest analogy is the proven effect that higher tax rates generally reduce the tax take.  I am no economist nor criminologist but in the wake of current opposition party thoughts on tax and judges, whose influence on the Sentencing Council is paramount, imposing ever higher sentences framed by said Council who is to say that they only have all the right answers.


  1. The lack of deterrence might also be attributed to offenders knowing that 96% of sentences are non-custodial.

    By the time a recidivist's crocodile tears finally fail to convince a bench, they're likely to be very familiar with variations on the phrase "One last chance."

  2. Are we so different from Holland where prisons are emptying and underused because real alternatives to custody are being practiced and a recidivism rate far lower than ours?