Tom Richmond: Minimum sentences can help tackle cycle of reoffending

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THERE has been the usual hand-wringing this week after yet another report revealed the failure of the criminal justice system – and prisons in particular – to cut re-offending rates.

In short, a study of 21 prisons found little progress has been made – while the Government insisted the answer rests with its reforms which will see greater support given to offenders when they make the difficult transition from custody to the community.

Yet, while the Government’s strategy depends on the competence – or otherwise – of the Probation Service which, frankly, has a patchy record at best, it is further evidence that the courts need to introduce minimum prison sentences when criminals are given a custodial punishment.

Why?

As well as ending the scandal where killers, rapists, attackers, fraudsters and the like are released halfway through their punishment, and invariably without the justice authorities having the courtesy to inform the victims of these crimes that their assailant is to be freed, it will place a greater onus on the prisons to rehabilitate their offenders, one of their fundamental roles.

For, unless the criminal concerned has demonstrated that they have come to terms with their drug or alcohol addiction, or developed skills that will enable them to gain a meaningful job on their release back into society, they should not be released if the Government is serious about ending the perpetual cycling of reoffending which blights communities across the land.

And, given that it is people sent to jail for a matter of weeks or months who are more likely to reoffend than criminals who have lost their liberty for several years, these are the individuals who need to be targeted.

That’s why I advocate minimum sentences – it then places the onus on the criminal to mend their ways after a certain time-frame before being considered for parole.

Yes, this will require a financial commitment so that the Prison Service has the necessary space and resources to rehabilitate offenders, but it is, surely, a price worth paying when Justice Minister Jeremy Wright revealed this week that 600,000 offences were committed last year by prisoners who had previously broken the law, and that £4bn a year is still being spent on “prisons and probation”.

AS it is the season of goodwill, let me give Leeds Council some free advice to help it confront those residents and commuters who are opposed to the Government’s high-speed rail revolution.

Their discontent stems from the fact that a new HS2 hub will be built on the former Tetley’s site – and passengers will then have to walk to and from the existing Leeds Station to catch local services.

Two points. First, there is simply not the room at the existing station for new lines – scheduled trains are invariably held up until a platform becomes available.

Second, the distance between the two stations will, I guess, be no further than the trek from King’s Cross to the Tube line.

As the Transport Select Committee made clear last week, the case for HS2 is powerful. But it does still require northern councils – and LEPs – helping the Government to keep the plan on track.

I SEE that Judith Brooksbank, the deputy mayor of Keighley, is advocating a significant reduction in the number of local councillors in order to make politics cheaper. Under her plan, Bradford Council would, in future, have just 60 councillors – two per ward – rather than 90 at present.

I’m minded to agree; the increased cost of salaries for town hall bosses and elected representatives has not come under sufficient scrutiny, but I do think there needs to be a debate about whether councillors should be full-time paid positions or undertaken on a voluntary basis?

What’s your take?

TALKING of the cost of politics, there is a very simple way to stop some members of the unelected House of Lords “clocking in” to claim a £300 daily attendance allowance.

They should only be entitled to payment if they actually take part in a Lords debate, a committee hearing or other bona fide official Parliamentary business.

After all, they supposedly received peerages so that their expertise could be used to improve the legislative process. And, unlike elected MPs, they do not have constituents to represent.

If peers do not like this approach, there is one very simple solution available to them – resign.

WHY should supposedly wealthy parents be criticised for “cheating the system” to win places for their children at the best schools?

According to The Sutton Trust, parents are willing to employ a raft of cunning schemes including moving house, employing tutors or sending children to extracurricular activities such as music or drama to gain the upper hand in the school selection process.

Yet such criticism misses a fundamental point. Such scheming would not be necessary if parents had total confidence in their local school.

It begs this question: since when was it a crime for parents to expect the best for their children?

WAS it me, or were you, too, uncomfortable with the fact that David Cameron felt the need to be accompanied by former footballer Michael Owen during his pre-Christmas trip to Afghanistan to give a pep talk to the troops?

To me, it suggested that the PM was putting imagery and PR spin before the seriousness of his trip, the Government’s support for the Armed Forces and whether it will be mission accomplished – or not – when the last soldiers come home next summer.

THE extent to which football is divorced from its grass roots was evidenced when Andre Villas-Boas was the latest mananger to be given the red card by Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy.

Given that the likeable but naive AVB was the ninth permament or temporary boss to be axed at White Hart Lane since 2001, it does call into question the decision-making of Levy, who does the hiring and firing.

Villas-Boas received the sack on the morning after the BBC Sports Personality of the year awards where football hardly received a mention, apart from an award for Sir Alex Ferguson and a posthumous accolade for Hillsborough campaigner Ann Williams.

Contrast this with the acclaim given at SPOTY to Joe and Maggie Forber, who received the unsung heroes’ trophy for their work at a basketball centre near Manchester where they inspire thousands of young people this week.

They said they were proud to pick up the accolade on behalf of all those who give up their time to help run community sports clubs.

Perhaps if England’s elite clubs were as committed to this, rather than managerial changes, then the so-called national game might be in better health ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

OUTSPOKEN racing pundit John McCririck of reality TV notoriety has launched an over-the-top attack on BBC Sports Personality of the Year winner Andy Murray, saying that he is “an awful, awful representation of our country”.

It takes one to know one.

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