Soft on crime: Labour's legacy

IT would be wrong entirely to blame liberal judges for the eye-watering statistic that not one convicted burglar in 2008 received the most serious prison sentence available to the courts.

This is because sentencing policy was, in all likelihood, compromised by the shortage of prison places, and meddling politicians were just as culpable as those judges who chose not to make this scandal public at the time.

What is indisputable, however, is New Labour's legacy: "Soft on crime, soft on the causes of the crime".

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This is the only serious conclusion that can be drawn from the data, obtained by West Yorkshire MP Philip Davies, which reveals that jail sentences are becoming shorter, with fewer than one in 100 inmates receiving the maximum prison term.

What kind of message does this send out to the criminal fraternity, given that New Labour spent 12 years passing draconian laws and sentences that have proved to be toothless?

Mr Davies is right to make this point – and how the past leniency of the courts has had a negligible impact on the crimes committed by the hard core of serial offenders.

The Shipley MP is, however, mistaken with his assertion that Ken Clarke, the new Justice Secretary, is wrong to consider sending fewer criminals to jail on shorter prison sentences.

This is precisely the reason why so many burglars, and violent individuals, are unafraid of the law. They know, all too well, that any custodial sentence will not reflect the seriousness of their crimes because too much credit is given for guilty pleas, and how prisons have become conveyor belts.

What needs to happen is for serious criminals to spend longer behind bars, as advocated by Mr Clarke, so they can come to terms with the reasons behind their criminality – and undergo the appropriate remedial action to break their never-ending cycle of re-offending.

The downside is that people guilty of more minor one-off offences are likely to preserve their liberty, but it is a price that might be worth paying if it means the courts make an example of burglars and, for once, use their full powers to protect the public.