Sunday, 8 August 2010

So what would you do? .....

The Daily Mail (Sunday 8th August 2010 - "Half witted leniency failed again ...") has published an outspoken article about a community sentence handed down to Bradley Wernham aged 19.  Wernham is described as a "career burglar" who has been stealing since the age of 12.  A judge, who is severely criticised in the Daily Mail article, has now sentenced Wernham to 5 years imprisonment.

The case is also reported in The Independent and the BBC.  These reports offer further essential detail which is omitted from the Daily Mail report.  In particular, the reports bring out the fact that the judge had made use of an innovative programme for prolific offenders which was operating in Essex.  The Police had recommended use of this programme in Werham's case.  Wernham received a community sentence for 3 years with a considerable number of requirements attached.  As part of the prolific offender strategy, he was provided with accommodation.

See also BBC 4th August - "Trying to Stop England's prolific offenders"

Of course, the Daily Mail has every right to publish a critical article since justice "must be allowed to suffer the scrutiny and respectful even though outspoken comments of ordinary men" - (per Atkin J in Ambard v Attorney-General for Trinidad and Tobago 1936).  I am not so sure the Daily Mail is entirely "respectful" but let's leave that to one side.  The judge was also perfectly entitled to use the sentencing options available to him and that included the prolific offender strategy].  The real question however is - just what should be done about prolific offenders?

The Youth Justice Board has published information about Prolific and Other Priority Offender Strategies and there is an interesting, albeit lengthy, Ministry of Justice research report (pdf - 145 pages) published in July 2009 which considers the effectiveness of various sentencing options.

Is a rehabilitative sentencing regime right or should the law be much tougher as soon as anyone offends in the hope that further crime will be deterred?  Just how should the Youth Justice system deal with children and young persons who offend - remember that Wernham had been offending since age 12?  Since this year's general election, the public has been fed a diet of "prison does not work" since it fails to offer rehabiltation.  Sentencing has been a political football for a generation or more.  Just what is the way forward?


  1. From the BBC story "They (prolific offenders) will be committing offences to survive more often than not."
    In that case, I can well imagine that enabling someone to survive without resorting to crime, may be effective. Wernham stole property worth over £1 million including expensive cars. He should have been locked up much earlier.

  2. Research so far has not found much evidence that deterrence works - the one thing that seems to have effect is a genuine fear of being caught. I do think that the Justice Minister has shown some real awareness of the problems of sentencing in questions 26 -46. No doubt I'll be disappointed but he does seem to be in tune with an earlier Cons. Home Sec. who said "Prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse" which led to the CJA 1991. This had its faults but there was a clear "desert" theory which at the lower court level seemed clear and promising.

  3. It certainly seems that he won't come out rehabilitated. At least the public has been given a well deserved eighteen month holiday from his activities.

  4. Ed (not Bystander)8 August 2010 at 20:53

    I'm entirely comfortable with the protecting the public by locking up prolific offenders for a really long time. If they are genuinely prolific then deterrence and rehabilitation have failed. What's left?