Call for courts to give fewer prison terms

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A justice charity has called for magistrates in the county to send fewer criminals to prison.

The Howard League for Penal Reform has published figures showing that magistrates in Northamptonshire are four times more likely to hand down jail terms than courts elsewhere.

During 2011 magistrates in Northampton sentenced 11,961 cases, of which 775 (6.5 per cent) were jailed. That compares to just 1.5 per cent jailed in Warwickshire and 3.5 per cent in Leicestershire.

Looking back Northants magistrates jailed 5.7 per cent in 2001 and 4 per cent in 2006.

Magistrates cannot jail someone for more than six months for a single offence, or 12 months for two or more.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said: “A short-term prison sentence is a catastrophe for everyone. It does not help change the life of the person sentenced – indeed, it is more likely to compound issues such as drug addiction and make them more likely to reoffend.

“It costs the taxpayer a fortune and it does nothing to help victims, who get no recompense or easing of trauma.

“Community sentences are much cheaper than custody and they deliver better results. They not only address a person’s offending, but allow them to access other services they need, such as help with drink, drugs or mental health problems.”