Hurray for Professor Andrew Ashworth

Professor Andrew Ashworth has produced a pamphlet released by the Howard League for Penal Reform arguing that prison “as our most severe punishment, should only be used for the most serious crimes”.  And he goes on to cite those crimes being of a violent, threatening or sexual nature. 

The Howard League article can be found here:  the BBC reporting can be found here:

The important part of his pamphlet seems to be forgotten in the furore to accuse him of being soft on criminals, but reading his report, I don’t believe that is his intention.  Professor Ashworth does, like the rest of the population, believe that victims of crime should be adequately compensated for their losses and he believes this can be achieved by handing down “effective and proportionate responses that do not require a total loss of liberty” and for that I applaud him.

I think you know me by now, I will only comment on first hand experiences, but in our case, apart from the business my husband stole from, who did he harm and what was the impact of his crime?  Why did the judge in his case feel that the public in general needed to be protected from him?  Do you see where I am coming from – if the judge had analysed Mike’s case (and forgive me, I thought that was their role), he would have instantly discovered that (a) Mike had repaid nearly all the money he had allegedly stolen (b) he had lost his job and his livelihood (c) the company had not been affected by his actions and (d) he did not have the lifestyle normally associated with million pound fraudsters, so was not in danger of leading anyone else astray.  Far from it.  A couple of hours of investigation would have revealed Mike was devastated and consumed with remorse and guilt over what he did to the company, to his family and his reputation.  He was attempting to make amends by working for small local companies who were all happy and comfortable with his past.  In one case, given the company he was working for had severely restricted funding, he worked for free.  He was a man trying to make amends whilst on bail.  But still, he was sentenced to three years.

I believe I have argued before that so-called “white collar criminals” have so much farther to fall.  Their remorse is often total and absolute – repayment of stolen amounts is forthcoming, the indignation of dismissal, explaining their actions to their family – all these processes are mortifying in the extreme to someone normally of “good character”.  Prison is an unnecessary process.  It is the icing on the public’s cake. 

Going back to the BBC’s article, I then checked out the follow up the next day where “experts” and those in the know made comment.  I take exception to Max Chamber (who is head of crime and justice at Policy Exchange) who seems to believe that “prison is already largely reserved for the most serious and persistent offenders, with magistrates and judges using prison as a last resort.”  Max, please, you need  to get out more.  It’s not.  Prison is used often as a first resort, as a useless and ineffectual deterrent.   Max’s comments are disingenuous that “….by far the best way of (reducing the prison population) …is to prevent crime and reduce reoffending…”  Max, please tell me how sending people to prison helps prevent crime?  How long have we been sentencing?  Now, I’m dyscalculic but I’m sure if I plotted a graph of when prisons were invented, the line indicating those serving a sentence would be dropping like a stone if it were a decent deterrent. 

No, the Government won’t change the law – it’s interesting that we have the vitality to question and petition our government over the placement of double yellow lines.   It’s just a shame we don’t use the same amount of energy when dealing with those who break the law – which, I have to remind you, could be you, your husband, your wife, your son or your daughter.

5 thoughts on “Hurray for Professor Andrew Ashworth

  1. Oh absolutely well said. You assault someone seriously and you go to jail for a while maybe a year however you steal money and you seem to get a sentence of longer. What does this say.

      1. I sincerely believe the punishment for white collar crime appears to be higher than, say, assault, child abuse etc.

  2. Hello there
    As you know, I have a particular interest in financial crime, but today I would like to comment more generally, as I am also a magistrate. And I think there are a couple of common misconceptions about sentencing.
    First, I realise that it often looks as though sentencing is out of balance – see the comment above about assault versus stealing money. But the sentencing bench (whether judge or magistrates) can only sentence for the charge that has been brought – so if the CPS has brought a charge of, say, assault rather than GBH, that’s all you can sentence on – you can’t bump up the sentence because you think it’s more serious than that.
    And second, at least in the magistrates’ court, I can absolutely confirm that we use custodial sentences as a last resort – we do everything we can to keep someone out of prison. (I can’t comment on Mike’s case, as I don’t know what was cited in mitigation and aggravation to achieve this sentence.) But if you have someone who has been given a conditional discharge, then commits the same offence again and is given a fine, then does it again and has a community sentence, then again and another community sentence, then again and now the probation people won’t deal with him any more, what is left? It is always heartbreaking to send someone to prison, but eventually we run out of options. I’m keen to hear what Professor Ashworth suggests for such situations.

    1. Your comments are very interesting. I know of a female first offender who received a sentence of a year. Never been in trouble before. Community Service would have been a better alternative but was not even considered.

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