Tag Archives: Custodial sentences

Huhne and Pryce released after serving 2 months of 8-month sentences – Why?

HuneChris Huhne and Vicky Pryce
were today, 13 May 2013, released from prison after serving just
25% of their 8-month sentences.

The background facts leading up to
the sentencing hearing can be seen here.
Pryce was convicted of, and Huhne pleaded guilty to, perverting the
course of justice.

Both were sentenced to 8 months
imprisonment. We stated that both would be eligible for release at
the half way point of their sentences, but would also be eligible
for release on a tag after 2 months. Here
is how we dealt with the sentences.

They were released after serving
just 25% of their sentences. Why?

Release

Well when a court expresses a
custodial sentence in terms of months and/or years, that represents
the total sentence, not just the time spent in custody. So, where a
judge says ‘Mr Smith the sentence I impose upon you is one of 3
years’ imprisonment.’ That will often be followed by an explanation
of roughly how long will be served in custody. If the sentence is 3
years, Mr Smith will be eligible for release at the halfway point,
with the balance of the sentence being served on licence.

The licence essentially
comprises of restrictions placed upon the offender with a
requirement to meet a probation officer to discuss the offender’s
progress. Any offences committed on licence would result in the
offender being returned to prison to serve all or part of the
balance of the sentence and any sentence imposed for the new
offences.

HDC /
Tagging

Here
we explain the general rules for the release from prison
sentences.

So why
were Huhne and Pryce release after ¼ not ½ of their sentences? Well
prisoners serving certain sentences are eligible to be released on
a tag, also known as HDC or Home Detention Curfew. This involves
being released to a specified address, on the condition that a
curfew (and other conditions) are adhered to. Release on HDC still
forms the punitive part of the sentence, but with the benefit of a)
reducing the prison population (and so reducing costs), b) allowing
the offender to begin their reintroduction into society and c)
retaining a degree of punishment and supervision over the
offender.

Here
we explain the general rules for release on Home Detention Curfew
(also known as ‘tagging’).

Contrary to popular belief (and what
was said on Radio 4 this morning), there is no release on or for
good behaviour. Good behaviour in prison is rewarded with
privileges, unacceptable behaviour is punished. But the sentence of
the court remains. 8 months is 8 months (subject to release
provisions as determined by Parliament).

Good
behaviour

Otherwise, there could be
inconsistencies between different prisons – staying out of trouble
in Preston might (in the Governor’s view) warrant a 7 day early
release for good behaviour, but might result in only a 1 day early
release in Wandsworth. Clearly that would be
unfair.

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Graffiti gang get ‘least possible sentence’ – Right or wrong?

Yesterday the Telegraph reported the case of a gang of youths who over a three-year period, caused £150,000 worth of damage to Tube trains in London.

The facts of the offence are not too important. What we are more concerned with is the implication that the Judge, in imposing the ‘least possible sentence’ is an example of the ‘soft judges’ about which the Telegraph and Daily Mail in particular regularly bemoan.

In fact, there is a good reason why the Judge said that he was imposing the least possible sentence. There is a duty imposed upon the courts to impose a custodial sentence for the shortest possible term, Criminal Justice Act 2003 s 153:

“…the custodial sentence must be for the shortest term (not exceeding the permitted maximum) that in the opinion of the court is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence…”

If we consider this provision, it is an obvious requirement – why would we want judges to impose sentences that were longer than necessary in order to meet the aims of the sentence? If 6 months is an appropriate punishment, and will allow for suitable rehabilitation, why waste public funds on a 9 month sentence? It makes no sense.

Graffiti

In this case, the Judge made other comments which the Telegraph appeared to take issue with:

“I don’t endorse it but I understand the adrenaline rush and the feeling it gives them and they may be isolated in their families.

“I don’t want to be doing this and I will by as lenient as I can be. They’ve got talent and some of Mr Rowe’s portfolio you would be proud of.”

“Clearly they are talented artists”

On one view, this is a ‘soft’ judge not treating the offence with the seriousness that it requires, considering the damage caused.

On the other, it is a judge who is trying to understand why the offenders have committed their offences, appreciate the circumstances of each offender and see the potential for the offenders to turn their talents away from graffiti and to lawful art.

Is that not what we want our judiciary to do?

The Judge imposed sentences of 2 years, 9 months and a 6-month Detention and Training Order.