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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Lowest number of offenders since records began

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The total number of individuals formally dealt with by the Justice System in Eng & Wales is the lowest since records began, falling 2% in the latest year.

Yesterday’s Criminal Justice Statistics quarterly bulletin, covering the year from April 2018 to March 2019, makes for odd reading at the end of a week in which the Prime Minister made so many policy announcements to “crackdown” on crime.

Odd reading because the headline finding was:

“The total number of individuals formally dealt with by the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales is at the lowest since records began and fell 2% in the latest year.”

More proof of our contemporary experience that criminal justice policy is often un-related to the real state of affairs. Why would a government crack down on a diminishing problem?

The main findings are neatly summarised by the Office for National Statistics in a graphic on the first page of the statistical bullet which is reproduced below.

[By the way, the definition of this “formally dealt with by the CJS group” is:

“The sum of all defendants prosecuted at magistrates’ court plus all individuals issued an out of court disposal (including community resolutions).]

Trends

Prosecutions down: The number of individuals prosecuted at all courts fell by 1% overall, with a 1% increase in summary motoring offences prosecutions offset by decreases for summary non-motoring and indictable offences. Indictable offence prosecutions fell by 8%, similar to the decrease in the number of offences charged by the police.

Out of Court Disposals down: A mixed picture here with police community resolutions up by 3% but cautions down by 15% and Penalty Notices for Disorder down by 14%. Overall, the number of individuals issued an out of court disposal (OOCD) decreased by 22,300 (9%) to 215,000 between March 2018 and March 2019.

Conviction rate stable: remains at 87%, although with a very wide range across different offences.

Proportion sent to custody down (but): The custody rate decreased to 6.5% but was largely driven by a change in offence mix, with a greater number of summary offences being sentenced in the latest year. The custody rate for indictable offences (32%) was similar to last year.

Average sentence length up: the average custodial sentence length was 17.2 months (the highest in a decade). The number sentenced to immediate custody has decreased since the year ending March 2012 to 76,800 in the latest year. However, those that were, received a longer average custodial sentence length (ACSL) increasing from 13.5 months to 17.2 months in the last decade.

Recidivists responsible for a bigger proportion of crime: The proportion of adult offenders convicted for an indictable offence with long criminal careers is now at its highest level, 39%, compared with 32% in the year ending March 2009. The number of first time offenders convicted for an indictable offence has decreased for the third year in a row, from 30,700 in the year ending March 2016 to 26,000 in 2019.

You can see more detail in the graphic below.

It is this group of repeat offenders who are often the rationale for the “crackdown on crime” policy announcements such as the building of 10,000 more prison places or the review of sentencing and early release policy.

 

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