Criminal Justice

'Sorry' could reduce sentence

Tens of thousands of offenders in Britain may be able to reduce their sentences by making personal apologies to their victims, under plans for a "rehabilitation revolution" in the criminal justice system.

Crispin Blunt, the Prisons Minister, is considering the move as part of a drive to offer victims the chance to come to face-to-face with the person who committed the crime.

A report by two charities, Victim Support and the Restorative Justice Consortium, suggests the policy could save £185 million ($393 million) in two years by cutting reoffending.

The minister has also declared his support for money earned by criminals either in prison or during alternative forms of punishment to be diverted to the victims of crime as a form of "community payback".

The Ministry of Justice has also drawn up plans to divert thousands of prisoners who are mentally ill or addicted to drugs out of prison and into secure treatment centres. Around 13,000 people are in UK prisons for drugs offences. According to the probation union, Napo, a further 5000 men and 500 women in prison have psychotic disorders.

The radical reforms will fuel an increasingly bitter law-and-order row within the coalition government.

Ken Clarke, the Minister of Justice, has been fiercely criticised for arguing that the number of prisoners in UK jails should be reduced.

Last week Blunt said offenders could be confronted with the victims of their crime in meetings facilitated by police officers.

But some Conservative MPs warned that the ministry was favouring the wishes of those working in the criminal justice system and not the wider public.

Tory MP Douglas Carswell said: "Restorative justice is certainly a fad that excited those that work for the criminal justice system, and I am not sure it is necessarily a bad thing. But it should be no substitute for justice. Some people tend to think that rehabilitation should take primacy over punishment. I don't think most people agree with that."

Blunt is being advised about how to roll out the plans by Victim Support and the RJC, which wants 75,000 victims of robbery, violence and burglary each year to be offered meetings, arguing it would cut reconviction rates by 27 per cent.

The report recommends meetings take place after a person is convicted and before sentencing. Lawrence Kershen QC, chair of the RJC, said case law indicated judges could take into account a meeting when considering sentencing.

(Published by NZ Herald – July 26, 2010)

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