As reported exclusively in The Mancunion last week, the number of sex attacks is on the rise in student areas of Manchester. What, then, can be said of the number of convictions? Or the sentences these offenders are likely to receive?
Earlier this year, new plans for a consultation on sentencing reform came under fire following a BBC interview with Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke. Building on an established discount system brought in under the Labour Party, offenders who pleaded guilty would be eligible for early release, including rapists. The Green Paper, entitled “Breaking the cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders” was first proposed by the government in December 2010.
In 2009, the average length of time a sex offender spent in prison was just over four years. Some 64 percent of offenders have known convictions or cautions; up to 15 or more apiece. This trend has been consistent for the last decade, according to the sentencing statistics of the Ministry of Justice. The Green Paper recommends continuing to provide programmes for the ‘treatment’ of sex offenders whom have “proven their worth”. However, the facts would seem to disagree with this recommendation.
While trying to ease the burden of cost and deal with issues of space within the prison system, corners are being cut in the judicial system. Sentences in general have become shorter; offenders now typically serve only half of their sentences behind bars and the other half under the supervision of a probation officer.
In line with the new plan, sex offenders could see their sentences cut by half. The supposed logic behind this new thinking is that the victims of sex attacks will be saved the ordeal of a court appearance. Yet, there are already pre-existing measures in place for such instances, and so the decrease is surely a redundancy that will only further harm the Tories’ battle against the image of being “soft on crime.”
For those subjected to sex attacks, the process of coming forward and identifying an attacker is daunting enough – let alone the abundant horror stories of some ordeals faced by victims when being processed through the court system.
There is a clear need for a reform of the sentencing guidelines and court procedures when dealing with sexual assaults, which has yet to be realised by the government. In my view and that of many others, shortening already-lenient sentences for sex attackers is clearly not the answer.
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