Criminals given short jail terms ‘have average of 56 previous offences’

Criminals jailed for six months or less have committed more than 50 previous offences on average, new statistics have revealed.

The disclosure comes as ministers weigh up scrapping short prison sentences in most cases and replacing them with community punishments.

In the year to September, offenders sentenced to immediate custodial terms of up to six months in England and Wales had an average of 55.9 previous offences resulting in convictions or cautions, according to Ministry of Justice data.

Those jailed for between six and 12 months had an average of 34.1 previous offences.

The figures – released in parliamentary answers – also showed offenders locked up for six months or less had on average been given five previous community sentences.

As of the end of last year, there were a total of 2,917 prisoners serving six months or less.

They included 270 jailed for “violence against the person” crimes; 25 sex offenders; 880 locked up for theft offences, including 152 burglars and 576 shoplifters; 302 convicted of possessing weapons; 48 sentenced for drug-related offences, and 22 fraudsters.

Justice Secretary David Gauke has argued there is a “very strong case” for abolishing jail terms of six months or less, with exceptions made for violent and sexual crimes.

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Prisons Minister Rory Stewart backs replacing short terms with community sentences (Victoria Jones/PA)

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart has also backed the idea, which is being explored as part of efforts to reduce the prison population and drive down re-offending.

But Conservative MP Philip Davies, who obtained the MoJ statistics, said they lay bare the “complete idiocy” of the plans.

He told the Press Association: “These people have already had community sentence after community sentence and they have all reoffended afterwards hence they have been sent to prison as a last resort.

“To give these people yet another community sentence is one of the most stupid things I have ever heard.

“The Prime Minister must intervene and if these figures don’t knock some common sense into the Government I fear nothing will.”

Mr Gauke signalled a departure from the Tory “prison works” mantra as he revealed his vision for “smart justice” last month.

Short custodial terms would be replaced by “robust” community orders under the blueprint, which has been backed by penal reform campaigners.

Publishing the figures, Mr Stewart said: “Sentencing must match the severity of the crime.

“We will always hold in prison those criminals whose offences are so grave that no other penalty will suffice.

“However, sentences should also rehabilitate. There is persuasive evidence showing community sentences, in certain circumstances, are more effective than short custodial sentences in reducing reoffending.

“Unless we tackle the underlying causes of offending, we cannot protect the public from being victims of crime.

“Effective community orders can address offenders’ behaviour, answer their mental health and alcohol or drug misuse needs, and provide reparation for the benefit of the wider community.”

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