Monday, 23 April 2018

Too Many Suspended Sentences

This news in the Guardian is an idication of just how determined the government is to make TR work, rather than admit it's all been a terrible mistake:-   

Stop handing out so many suspended sentences, courts told

Community orders more legally appropriate, Sentencing Council for England and Wales says

Judges, magistrates, court clerks and probation officers have all been instructed to stop handing down so many suspended prison sentences and switch instead to giving offenders community orders. A leaked circular sent earlier this month by the chair of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Treacy, to courts across England and Wales warned that a punitive culture had developed – imposing suspended sentences “as a more severe form of community order” when not legally appropriate.

Probation officers have been told to no longer recommend suspended sentences in pre-sentence reports. The two-page letter highlights a stark trend that has emerged over the past decade of suspended sentence use rising sharply while the number of community orders has almost halved. Suspended sentences are given to convicted offenders on the understanding that if they reoffend or fail to observe their conditions they are liable to be sent to prison.

Treacy’s circular has been sent at a time when prisons remain overcrowded. In it he wrote that in 2005, courts handed out almost 203,000 community orders; by 2010 that had fallen to 188,000 and in 2015 it was fewer than 108,000. By contrast, the number of suspended sentence orders has risen substantially. They stood at 4,000 in 2005, reached 46,000 in 2010 and were more than 52,000 in 2015.

The circular explained: “Evidence suggested that part of the reason for this could be the development of a culture to impose suspended sentences as a more severe form of community order in cases where the custody threshold may not have been crossed.

“In such cases, if the suspended sentence order (SSO) is then breached, there are two possible outcomes – neither of which is satisfactory. Either the courts must activate the custodial sentence and the offender then serve time in custody even when it may never have been intended that they do so for the original offence. Or the court could choose not to enforce the suspended sentence, thereby diminishing the deterrent power of such orders.”

Treacy added: “A suspended sentence is a custodial sentence and not a more severe form of community order. They can only be imposed where the court has determined first that the custody threshold has been crossed and second that custody is unavoidable ... At that point the court may then undertake a weighted assessment of the various factors which may lead the court to consider that it is possible to suspend the sentence.”

In order to give effect to his warning, Treacy agreed with the director of the National Probation Service that probation officers would refrain from recommending SSOs in pre-sentence reports. Treacy noted: “This in no way impacts upon judicial discretion to suspend custodial sentences: it merely seeks to reinforce good sentencing practice.”

Penelope Gibbs, the director of Transform Justice, who has seen the circular, fears it could lead to judges giving more prison sentences if they are discouraged from using suspended sentences. She said: “I completely understand the desire of the Sentencing Council to increase community orders. But banning the probation service from recommending suspended sentence orders is not the right strategy. If a suspended sentence is not recommended, judges may use a prison sentence instead, and we know that short prison sentences are ineffective”

There has been growing concern that community orders are falling out of fashion. Two years ago the former lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, called for the creation of “really tough, and I do mean tough, community penalties”.


  1. What a load of tosh. As a court CDO I can tell you Courts do not up tarriff and highlights how far from the coalface the Centre are. It is a feeble attempt to try and slow down the rise in the prison population and will have the opposite effect. Dont know about you collegues however I am sick and tired of having to deliver whatever political whim the present gov wants to roll out

  2. We have been here before. Before the 2003 criminal justice act, the suspended sentence had fallen into disuse. That happened because they were too popular with the courts and led to breaches and imprisonment.
    From a slow start – less then 500 in 2005 – the growth has been exponential. I doubt whether it's got anything to do with the development of a 'punitive culture' as that culture seen ingrained in the system, The suspended sentences was known as the sword of Damocles. We go round in circles.

  3. Ha ha. So it’s all probations fault, and we found out on the internet!!

    1. ... as if judges are bound by probation recommending SSOs in pre-sentence reports !!!!

  4. I watched parliament tv and Justice Select Committee and my view was that the goverment will try to Polish the Probation turd they have created aka Transforming Rehabititation revolution. I lost count of how many times Dame Glenys reiterated that the system was flawed in her view. The Prison Inspector more shockingly asserted that Prison Governors had given up on rehabilitation and were prioritising safety with the resources they had. Of course the government representative waved an academic book (I hate academic references being abused, remember Matinsen and Nothing Works) to evidence the need for change, the difficulties in transition and no new big changes which would be upsetting for staff morale!!! Meaning the government is to try and make TR work, rather than admit it's all been a terrible mistake.

  5. If there is an issue with SSOs being imposed inappropriately then the problem is not of Probation's making as, as 07.45 says, the Courts are not and never have been bound by a report proposal. The fault, certainly in the Magistrates Court, would be with the Clerk as legal advisor. I find it difficult to believe that there are many, if any "illegal" SSOs imposed at Crown. The letter does though raise a good question about Probation and Courts and whether we should return to the position of never recommending custodial sentences. The problem though is that we were criticised for that as well on the basis of being naive or giving people, facing inevitable imprisonment, false hope.

  6. From a post the other day.

    "For any service user sentenced to an accredited Programme Requirement who is in employment, the expectation will be that the offender manager will make an immediate application to the Court for amendment of the Requirement as unworkable."

    And now the suspended sentence is taken off the card.
    I fear that once you start limiting the options available, you begin to limit the possibilities of finding appropriate avenues that lead away from offending.
    I think it's also a sign of how probation services are being morphed into a more punitive arm of the CJS. What ever happened to professional judgement?


  7. Crown Courts began to use more SSSOs instead of Probation Orders as a way of enabling a community order with more teeth for higher tariff offenders without being criticised for handing out a soft option. The replacement of Probation Orders with Community Orders just confused sentencers and they opted for what they understood and where they felt they retained some control - hence lots of SSSOs and demise of COs.

  8. We need our politicians to have the courage and intelligence to recognise that what we need is effective community sentences and not 'tough' ones. Tough is not getting us anywhere and never has.

    I notice the Sun is at it again today. Offenders having a 'treat' putting on a theatre show working alongside an Opera company. So the Opera company employee are working whilst the prisoner are having a 'treat'. Dumb is really in the ascendance.

    1. Good point. Effective is the key word and language that needs to be used.
      A lot has been said about the use of language that surrounds the Winrush scandal this week. Creating a 'hostile' immigration policy is not the same as creating an effective one.
      When policy is based on being tough, hard, hostile it is very rarely effective and can have very serious unforseen consequences.
      The Tories use such language to assist the implemention of many of their policies such as welfare cuts. It divides people. It's nasty politics.

  9. The woman who led the advance of TR to london gets an extra job


    Press release

    Interim Chair of the Parole Board announced by Secretary of State

    The Secretary of State has announced Caroline Corby as the Interim Chair of the Parole Board

    1. The Secretary of State has announced today that Caroline Corby will be the Interim Chair of the Parole Board.

      Caroline Corby said: “I am delighted to have been appointed by the Secretary of State as Interim Chair of the Parole Board. I have been working with the Board for a number of years as a non-executive director and am acutely aware of the challenging and important work they do.

      “I look forward to working with staff and members to deliver on changes to improve how the Board works for victims and the public and will keep everyone informed of our progress.”

      Martin Jones, CEO of the Parole Board, said: “I am very pleased that Caroline has agreed to step in as interim chair. Caroline has a wealth of experience and understands the work of the Board extremely well. I look forward to working with her.”

      Notes to Editors
      Short biography of Caroline Corby
      Mrs Corby worked in the city for 13 years specialising in private equity where she also served on a number of private sector boards across a range of industries. In 2007 she joined the Board of London Probation Trust (LPT) and she served as Chair of LPT from 2012 until July 2014.

      As well as being a member of the Architects Registration Board, Caroline is also a Non-Executive Director of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), the Criminal Cases Review Commission and One Housing.

      She is also a Non - Executive member of the Parole Board management committee. She chairs interim order panels for the Nursing and Midwifery Council and chairs the General Optical Council’s Investigation Committee.

    2. Independent?
      This blog questioned her independence in 2013.
      A bit of a Katie Hopkins methinks. Go where the money is.

    3. Excellent - well remembered!

    4. Ms Corby is clearly a good friend of the MoJ:

      "In May 2013, the Secretary of State announced his decision to split the probation service by 31st March, 2014 into the new National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC). Since this announcement, the LPT board has taken the view that it is our responsibility to implement the wishes of the Secretary of State to the best of our ability"

    5. Caroline Corby overseeing the parole board.
      Tim Parker overseeing Courts and Tribunals.
      Both pretty big hitters from the corporate private sector.
      Is Gauke ensuring he has friends in high places?


    Are the magistrates rescuing him from probation services because they really have nothing to offer himh, making his community order just a pointless expense on the taxpayer?

    1. A man who was sentenced to a community order for causing criminal damage to his former partner’s home at Glastonbury failed to attend appointments with the Probation Service after being at large for seven months.

      Homeless Adam Kirby was charged with breach proceedings in September last year after failing to engage with his probation officer but had managed to avoid detection ever since.

      He was arrested again on a warrant issued by the courts and brought back before the court at Yeovil.

      He pleaded guilty to failing to comply with a community order made by Somerset Magistrates on July 17 last year when he failed to attend probation appointments.

      Probation officer Cheryl Steer said that breach proceedings were brought against Kirby in September last year but he had failed to attend the court hearing and had been at large since then. There was no further re-engagement with the Probation Service after that.

      The magistrates ordered that the community order should be revoked and the defendant re-sentenced for the original offence of damaging doors and windows at an address in Manor House Road, Glastonbury on May 13 belonging to his former partner.

      Miss Steer said that Kirby had been in a relationship with the victim at the time and they were sat on the sofa when he began calling her names.

      She threw the remainder of her warm coffee over him and he threw something back at her, hitting her cheek, so she told him to leave.

      “He left via the rear door but after it was closed he began kicking it causing the window pane to be smashed,” she said.

      “He then walked round to the front door and the sound of more glass smashing could be heard.

      “The police were called and saw a number of broken windows at the property and Kirby was stood outside and then arrested.”

      Defending solicitor Chris Baddoo said that there was a “clash of personalities” between Kirby and his probation worker as he did not believe they could do anything to help him.

      “There was this period of absence, and although he disputes using some of the language attributed to him, he accepts being forthright in his views as to what he thought they could do for him,” he said.

      “However there is only a few months of the community order left and there is very little work that the Probation Service can do with him now.”

      He said that Kirby was working casually as a builder’s labourer and had had no contact with the original victim since the offence was committed.

      There was also an element of provocation when the coffee was thrown over him first, he added.

      The magistrates revoked the community order and re-sentenced the defendant to a £300 fine and also ordered him to pay £60 costs.

  11. Aggrieved by debate about Suspended Sentence Orders (SSO). A SSO is a custodial sentence, suspended. This means, according to sentencing guidelines that the custody threshold has been crossed but not necessarily inevitable. The previous belief in Community Sentences was that there was a robust community option for the Courts' to consider. The communuty option was more onerous than the SSO according to guidance. As a former Probation Officer I used to articulate this concept in post sentence reports to the Courts'. In other words if minded to Community Sentence Order then here are reasoned options and if custodial more onerous community sentence option versus less onerous SSO. Ultimately the Courts' decide but they valued Probation assessment and sentencing proposals. I guess there have been a few changes since I last wrote a post sentence report for a Court to consider?

    1. Apologies pre sentence report not post.

  12. Parc Prison recruiting resettlement officers. No need to be a PSO to apply.

    1. You don’t even need gcse’s these days!!