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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Fewer but more serious offenders in the justice system

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The total number of individuals who have been dealt with formally by the CJS in England and Wales, has been declining since 2007, and is now at a record low level (period 1970 to June 2015) with 1.71 million individuals dealt with in the 12 months ending June 2015.

Latest criminal justice trends

Every three months the Ministry of Justice publishes a statistical bulletin of criminal justice statistics which provide a breakdown of the system’s main activities – the overall numbers of people dealt with, out of court disposals, court proceedings, convictions and sentencing etc. The latest bulletin (published on 19 November 2015) covers the year to the end of June 2015.

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Overall trends

The total number of individuals who have been dealt with formally by the CJS in England and Wales, has been declining since 2007, and is now at a record low level (period 1970 to June 2015) with 1.71 million individuals dealt with in the 12 months ending June 2015.

The use of out of court disposals has continued to decrease in the last year, but there was a 2% increase in the number of defendants proceeded against at the magistrates’ courts. This reversed a trend of almost year on year decreases in defendants proceeded against at the magistrates’ court over the past decade and was the first increase since the 12 months ending June 2010. The increase in defendants proceeded against in the latest year has been driven by rises in both summary (less serious, tried in Magistrates’ Courts) non-motoring and summary motoring offences, while the number of defendants proceeded against for indictable (more serious, to be tried in the Crown Court) offences has fallen.

You can see the drop in the numbers of people dealt formally by the criminal justice system in the graph below:

CJ stats Nov 2015

Similarly, the number of offenders convicted increased by 3% and offenders sentenced increased by 4%. There was also a one percentage point increase in the conviction ratio to 84% in the latest year.

The increased proportion of offenders sentenced for summary offences has led to a decrease in the overall custody rate from 7.9% in the previous year to 7.4% in the latest year, whilst the custody rate for indictable offences has increased year on year for the past five years.

The average custodial sentence length has risen continuously over recent years; last year it was 16.3 months, an increase of 0.9 months on the previous year.

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Offending histories

The number of first time entrants dealt with by the CJS continues to decline and fell by 54% since 2007. The reduction has been much sharper for juveniles (82% over the same period) than adults.

Around 2 in every 5 adults convicted of an indictable offence had a long criminal record compared to just over a quarter in the same period 10 years ago.

The number of adult offenders given a suspended sentence for an indictable offence increased during the 12 months ending June 2015, driven by an increase in the number of adult offenders given fully suspended sentences despite having 15 or more previous cautions or convictions.

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Sexual offences

The number of defendants proceeded against and convicted for sexual offences are the highest in a decade. The MoJ reserachers attribute the increase in the number of defendants proceeded against, at least in part, to the Operation Yewtree investigation, connected to the Jimmy Saville inquiry and the resulting media attention. Other commentators also draw attention to a change in culture with police more likely to believe victims and an improvement in police recording practices. Finally, the number of cautions for sexual offences fell 11% on the previous year.

Offenders sentenced for sexual offences had an average custodial sentence length of 62.5 months, a rise of 3 months compared with the previous year.

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Conclusion

This latest set of statistics confirms the main overall trends of recent years:

  • A steady decline in the number of people going through the justice system
  • A reduction in the number of out of court disposals
  • Nevertheless, a concentration of repeat offenders
  • Correlated to this last fact, an ever increasing average length of custodial sentence
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