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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Another jump in the number of people sent to prison

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The custody rate for indictable offences has increased since March 2011, from 24% to 32%.

Latest criminal justice statistics

The most recent (16 August 2018) Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly bulletin (covering April 2017 – March 2018) again confirms the same key trends over recent years — the lowest number of people since modern records began (1970) were dealt with by the courts, but the proportion of people imprisoned for indictable offences rose again and that average length of sentence increased too:

Fewer criminals

The number of individuals formally dealt with by the CJS fell by 7% in the latest year. The number of individuals prosecuted at all courts fell by around 5% despite a 11% increase in overall recorded crime (to 5.5 million offences), believed to be associated with improved recording among police forces and victims’ greater willingness to report crimes. The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), estimated 10.6 million incidents of crime in the latest year (including fraud and computer misuse), a non-statistically significant reduction of 4% compared with the previous year.

Out of court disposals going out of fashion

The use of out of court disposals (OOCDs) decreased by 38,500 (14%) in the year ending March 2018, with 236,600 individuals issued an OOCD. This decreasing trend can be seen across all OOCD types and continues the steady decline in the use of OOCDs over the last ten years. The use of Community Resolutions has also been decreasing since 2016. The decrease in the number of OOCDs followed a number of policy changes relating to police practice and OOCD availability.

There was a big fall in the number of Penalty Notices for Disorder — down 27% from 2017 while the total number of cautions also plummeted, down 20% from the previous year. Community resolutions were down 7%.

More custody…

While fewer offenders are being diverted from court, more are being sent straight to custody. Since the year ending March 2017, the overall number of offenders sentenced at all courts has fallen by 50,800 (4%) to 1.19 million. 

The most common sentence given continues to be a fine, accounting for 75% of all offenders sentenced, increasing by 10 percentage points since 2011. In the year ending March 2018, a greater proportion of offenders (32%) received immediate custody for indictable offences than any other sentence outcome, up by 2 percentage points since 2017. The only offence group to see an increase in the number of people sentenced in the latest year was possession of weapons, where 4,500 (up from 4,100) individuals were sentenced. The custody rate for the offence group also increased 2 percentage points to 36%.

Since 2008, the proportion of offenders receiving a community sentence for indictable offences has declined by 13 percentage points to 20%, and the proportion of offenders receiving a suspended sentence for indictable offences increased by 8 percentage points to 17%.

…for longer

Average custodial sentence length (ACSL) increased to 20.2 months for indictable offences and was 17.1 months overall. ACSL has steadily increased since March 2008, when it was 12.4 months overall (now 17.1 months) and 15.1 months for indictable offences (now 20.2 months).

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2 Responses

  1. There could be lots of reasons for this. I strongly suspect one is that police are now more focused on investigating only the most serious cases in the face of budget reductions. It could also be that we are at the start of another punitive turn, driven the well-publicised upturn in serious violence in many parts of the UK. Your point on loss of faith in alternatives to custody is well made. Any other contenders?

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