Today convicted News of the World phone hackers, Neville Thirlbeck and Greg Miskiw have been released from prison. They have served 37 days of a 6 month sentence and have been released on Home Detention Curfew.This has raised the hackles of the hand ‘em and flog ‘em brigade.
Let’s start with the usual ‘dishonesty in sentencing’ canard. The prisoner’s given 6 months, that what he should serve.
Sentencing is largely governed by statute. The release of prisoners sentenced to less than four years at half time has a statutory basis. Indeed when sentencing the judge usually says something like this to the prisoner.Tthis from Mr Justice Sweeney sentencing Rolf Harris
'The total sentence is therefore one of 5 years and nine months’ imprisonment.Unless released earlier, you will serve half that sentence when you will be released on licence for the remainder of the sentence. Should you breach the terms of that licence, including by the commission of further offences, you will be liable to recall.'
There can be no doubt in either the prisoner’s mind or that of the public reading this, the exact nature of the sentence.
The phrase ‘unless released earlier’, directs the prisoner to the possibility of release on Home Detention Curfew. Again that feature of sentencing controlled by legislation, though not by the judge This is a discretionary release. Statute gives discretion to the Home Secretary. He has handed its exercise to the prison governor. The rules are complex, but as usual, UK Criminal Law Blogexplains the working on Andy Coulson’s case.
Then there’s the myth that ‘sentences are more lenient’ or fewer convicted criminals are not being locked up. This what the Sentencing Council has to say.
'Between 1995 and 2009, the prison population in England and Wales grew by two thirds with 32,500 more people in jail. This increase was mainly due to courts sentencing more offenders to prison, and because offenders have been staying in prison for longer.
Most types of crime have also been falling since the 1990s. The 2010/11 British Crime Survey showed that crime remained at its lowest levels since the survey was introduced in 1981. For example, violent crime reached a peak in the mid-1990s and 2010-2011 figures showed that it was at about half the level of 1995, and about the same level as in 1981. For violent crime, average sentence lengths have also been increasing.
When reading a newspaper report about a particular case, it can be difficult to judge whether it is too lenient, as it will not cover all the facts of the case. Judges will normally produce sentencing remarks which explain their reasons for giving a particular sentence. Sentencing remarks for some high profile cases can be found on the Judiciary website’
Finally there are the costs involved in keeping prisoners locked up. The Home Office costings give an average yearly per prisoner/place of over £34,000. Prisoners do breach licence and Home Detention Curfew provisions. And the return adds to the costs.In order to make a sensible comparison, you need to know how many prisoners who are not released on licence or subject to Home Detention Curfew commit offences and are imprisoned for those offences. The Home Office do not collect those statistics.
If you want 6 months to mean six months inside,you must accept there are likely to be tax implications.Alternatively, I doubt whether that group would be happy with Thirlbeck and Miskiw being sentenced to five weeks in jail!