‘Sentencing not to blame’ - ex-magistrate

Keith Fisher pictured in the area of Easington Road where the vehicle was stopped.
Keith Fisher pictured in the area of Easington Road where the vehicle was stopped.

A RETIRED magistrate says social and economic problems are the reason our area has the highest level of re-offenders in the country.

Former Hartlepool justice of the peace Keith Fisher says it is not necessarily sentencing guidelines which have led to the poor performance of Durham Tees Valley Probation Trust (DTVPT), which covers Hartlepool and East Durham, but the social background of the area, including drugs and unemployment.

He spoke after the probation trust was ranked worst in a national league of shame for the proportion of people who re-offend.

New figures obtained by the Centre for Crime Prevention – which said a “revolving door system of community sentences is failing” – reveal that 44.1 per cent of people in the probation trust area re-offended from 2005 to 2011, with 7,494 re-offences and 2,041 re-offenders.

Mr Fisher, 70, who was a town magistrate for 18 years before retiring last December, said: “I’m not speaking on behalf of my colleagues at court, but the fact is I don’t think the problem of the difference between us and other areas can be found in court, because the whole country works to the same sentencing guidelines.

“It must be something more social in the area that’s the problem.”

Mr Fisher, who was also a member of the Magistrates’ Court Committee covering Teesside and a magistrate member of Cleveland Police Authority, added: “I think if you dig down a little way, it’s deprivation, unemployment, the fact that we have addiction problems, many of the offences in this area are to finance an addiction.

“People steal things today that they can sell today to buy drugs – it’s as simple and brutal as that.

“When you deal with people and they do it again the next day, it’s because they can’t see another way to deal with their problem.

“All magistrates work from the same sentencing guidelines. If anyone thinks we should do it another way, they need to move the sentencing guidelines.”

Blackhall magistrate Alan Cox, also a Durham County Councillor, added that parents of young offenders need to play a part in helping to stop the offending cycle from an early age.

Coun Cox, who has been a magistrate for 29 years, added: “The whole system needs addressing.

“By giving people community orders, they complete them, but so many people are re-offending that it doesn’t have the results we are looking for.”

A probation trust spokesman said the trust acknowledged the high re-offending rate and said it has a very clear strategy on reducing re-offending.

He added: “The trust has undergone a period of internal review and redesign aimed at driving efficiency and effectiveness in the services we provide.

“DTVPT manages offenders from the County Durham, Darlington and Teesside areas; localities that continue to face rising unemployment, deeply entrenched pockets of deprivation and other socio-economic issues.

“This is reflected in the high predicted rate of re-offending issued by the Ministry of Justice.

“The most recent quarterly proven adult re-offending statistics issued by Ministry of Justice do show a decrease in both the percentage of re-offenders and the actual number of re-offences committed across the trust area.”

The Mail reported yesterday that the trust performed well above the national average in a new report on reducing risk of harm to others, re-offenders’ compliance and working to make individuals less likely to re-offend.