Short prison sentences may be abolished: Jail sentences of less than six months could be replaced with community orders, says Justice Secretary

Short prison sentences for some offences could be abolished under new laws, the Justice Secretary has confirmed.

Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 2:02 pm
Updated Wednesday, 3rd April 2019, 2:09 pm
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David Gauke said legislation could be introduced to end prison sentences of six months or less for certain crimes - though he stressed no decisions have yet been made, adding the Government could not introduce reforms overnight "and hope for the best".

The cabinet minister signalled a departure from the Tory "prison works" mantra earlier this year when he outlined his vision for "smart justice".

Justice Secretary David Gauke. Picture by Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

Mr Gauke said in February that there was a "very strong case" to abolish sentences of six months or less, with some "closely defined exceptions", such as for violent or sexual crimes.

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Short custodial terms would be replaced by "robust" community orders under the blueprint.

The proposals have been backed by the Commons Justice Committee, which urged ministers to consider going further by scrapping sentences of under 12 months.

Giving evidence to the committee on Wednesday, Mr Gauke was asked if the Government is considering introducing legislation to reduce the number of offenders given short prison sentences.

He said: "Yes, we are considering our options here.

"No decisions as yet have been made, but I do worry about the impact short sentences can have.

"This is a complex matter. It is important not to think that addressing the issue of short sentences is a huge money-saving opportunity.

"In the long-term it might be if it helps reduce re-offending but I completely agree that reducing short sentences needs to be viewed in the context of improving the alternatives.

"I don't think one can just, overnight, get rid of short sentences and hope for the best."

Penal reform campaigners are in favour of scrapping short jail terms.

But Tory MP Philip Davies warned against the move last month after figures revealed criminals jailed for six months or less have committed more than 50 previous offences on average.