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Smarter approach to sentencing is needed

Column by Sleaford and North Hykeham MP Dr Caroline Johnson

The first duty of any Government is to protect members of the public from harm.

The Government was elected on a manifesto that promised to be both tough on crime and the causes on crime and I was delighted to be in the chamber last week and hear from the Justice Secretary regarding proposals for new sentencing reforms. At the core of these proposals lie two principle tenets – protecting the public from the most serious offenders and reducing reoffending through breaking the cycle of crime.

Under the current system offenders are released automatically halfway through their sentence. For the most serious offenders this is not good enough.

Caroline Johnson (23271513)
Caroline Johnson (23271513)

Under these proposals those who commit the most heinous crimes will stay behind bars for longer, keeping dangerous offenders off the street and for as long as they present a threat. When dangerous individuals are released early this can have devastating effects, as the terror attacks at London Bridge and in Streatham tragically demonstrated. On both occasions the attackers were released into the community according to the law, despite concerns, and went on to commit horrific acts of violence.

The Government promptly introduced new counter-terrorism sentencing legislation to address this issue for terrorist offenders – these new proposals would see other serious criminals, including sexual and violent offenders, spend longer in custody.

Furthermore, there are prisoners who, while serving time for their offence, may become a danger to the public while still being eligible for automatic release. They may have become radicalised while in prison and now present a terror threat – in these cases new powers will be available to ensure these offenders can not be released without being assessed as safe by Parole Board experts.

More robust sentences for the worst offenders will be combined with greater efforts to tackle the drivers of crimes.

For low-level offenders stuck in a revolving door of crime, the best technology will be used to enforce compliance for tougher community sentences. Electronic monitoring technology will be used to ensure long and restrictive curfews are adhered to. Sobriety tags, first piloted in Lincolnshire, will be used to ensure individuals are complying with alcohol abstinence orders, through monitoring an individual’s sweat levels every 30 minutes to see if they have been drinking. These measures will ensure that once criminals have left custody robust monitoring is still in place to both stop further harm and help break the cycle of reoffending.

These proposals represent a significant strengthening of our judicial system ensuring it takes into account the true cost of the most serious crimes whilst remaining flexible enough to tackle the drivers of crime and I look forward to seeing this legislation brought forward in the new year.

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