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40% offenders have long criminal careers
The new criminal justice statistics show another drop in number of offenders and another rise in length of prison sentences.

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The latest Criminal Justice Statistics quarterly bulletin (published on 21 February 2019 and covering England and Wales to September 2018) confirmed the main paradoxes in our criminal justice system.

While there continue to be fewer offenders going through our courts every year, we are sending more people to prison, for longer periods of time.

The most startling finding from the latest bulletin is the growing proportion of crime committed by long term offenders:

The proportion of offenders with a long criminal career that were convicted for indictable offences now accounts for nearly two fifths of the offending population and has increased by 10 percentage points in the last year.


The drop in the numbers of people being processed by the criminal justice system is substantial, to say the least. The number of individuals formally dealt with by the CJS fell by 5% in the latest year. The number of individuals prosecuted at all courts fell by 4%, and for indictable offences prosecutions fell by 12%, which is broadly in line with the latest crime outcomes statistics published by the Home Office; the number of offences given a charge/summonsed (excluding fraud) fell by 9% in the latest year. This is despite an 8% increase in overall recorded crime excluding fraud (to 5.1 million offences, or 7% increase to 5.7 million offences including fraud), believed to be associated with improved recording among police forces and victims’ greater willingness to report crimes.


There was a big jump in the proportion of people sent to prison for serious offences. In year ending September 2018, the overall custody rate remained at 7%, while the custody rate for indictable offences rose to 33%, up from 25% in September 2008.

Compared to the previous year, the overall number of offenders sentenced at all courts has fallen by 3% to 1.18 million. Similar to the trend seen in prosecutions and convictions, this is mainly driven by a decline in the number of offenders sentenced for indictable offences, which has decreased by 12%.

The most common sentence given continues to be a fine, accounting for 76% of all offenders sentenced, increasing by 10 percentage points since 2012. In the latest year, just over half (51%) of people sentenced to immediate custody were sentenced to less than 6 months, remaining similar to the proportion seen in 2008 (53%).

In the latest year, a greater proportion of offenders (32%) received immediate custody for indictable offences than any other sentence outcome, up 1 percentage point since last year and up 7 percentage points over the last 10 years. The proportion of offenders receiving a suspended sentence has been gradually increasing over the same period from 9% to 16% in the latest year. Falls can be seen in other disposals such as conditional discharge, where 9% of offenders in the latest year received this outcome compared to 13% in 2008.

The average custodial sentence length (ACSL) increased to 20.4 months for indictable offences and was 17.2 months overall. ACSL has steadily increased since September 2008, when it was 15.7 months for indictable offences and 13.0 months overall.

Offending histories

The number of offenders convicted for an indictable offence has been decreasing year on year since 2011, falling by 41%. Over the same period the proportion with a long criminal career has increased. In the year ending September 2018 nearly two fifths (37%) of this offending population had a long criminal career; an increase
of 10 percentage points since 2011. The proportion of adult offenders convicted of an indictable offence with long criminal careers during the year ending September 2018 is now at its highest level, 40%, compared
with 32% in the year ending September 2008.

At the same time, the number of first time offenders convicted of an indictable offence has decreased for the third year in a row, from 30,900 in the year ending September 2016 to 26,900 in the year ending September 2018. Conversely, the proportion of the offending population who are first time offenders has increased year on year since the year ending September 2013.


As seems to be increasingly the case, our official statistics appear to be influenced by a wide range of factors including trends in reporting and recording crime and a fall in the number of police officers to make arrests.

In summary, the latest statistics show that crime is up, the number of people arrested and prosecuted is down while those who are convicted of serious (indictable) offences are more likely to be sent to prison and serve longer sentences. 

As usual, the MoJ provides a very helpful summary infographic, reproduced below:

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