Tougher domestic abuse sentences ‘will flood prisons’

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Oct 25, 2017
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There are more than 85,000 inmates in England and Wales, according to the latest figures

Anthony Devlin/PA

Tougher sentencing guidelines for cases of domestic abuse will fuel the prison overcrowding crisis, MPs will warn today.

Proposed guidelines are likely to have an “inflationary impact on sentencing” and will need extra resources for a system that is already overstretched, the Commons justice committee says in a report today.

Sentencing trends indicate that sexual and violent offenders are receiving longer sentences, the report will say, adding: “This affects the size of the prison population which has recently seen unanticipated growth and is projected to continue to grow.”

The report comes in response to proposed guidelines for offences of domestic abuse from the Sentencing Council, which advises courts on penalties. 

Although the council does not intend its guidelines to shift sentencing patterns, the MPs say the proposal that domestic abuse and intimidation offences are treated “particularly seriously” is likely to have “an inflationary influence on sentencing”.

The MPs welcome the proposal, which will be reflected in a forthcoming bill on domestic abuse.

But they say: “We have considered whether signalling the gravity of such offences warrants a potential increase in resources for imprisonment and we believe it does.”

Resources for the delivery of community and custodial sentences are finite and already stretched, the report adds. “The Ministry of Justice must make provision for additional prison and probation resources, were the guidelines to have this result.”

Prison services are overstretched, with the latest figures showing more than 85,000 inmates in England and Wales. Prisons are also beset by unprecedented levels of violence, drug use and shortages of staff leading to restricted regimes for inmates.

The committee has launched an inquiry into the prison population, which has risen by 20 per cent in 15 years. England and Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe.

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