December 8, 2014

Swift and Certain: A new paradigm for criminal justice

Prolific criminals serving community orders, who break the terms of their probation, could be sent to jail for up to a week under plans to make the criminal justice system swifter and fairer.

Swift and Certain shows that 182,000 offenders receive either a Community Order or Suspended Sentence Order every year.

  • 1 in 3 fail to complete their Order, predominantly due to a failure to comply with the requirements of their sentence or as a result of a further conviction.
  • Punishment for breaching probation is not handed out until 5 weeks after the breach has taken place and the average time elapsed from committing the breach to completion can take up to 53 working days.
  • Currently first time breaches of Orders usually result in a warning from a probation officer, and further breaches are left to their discretion. Only after multiple breaches and significant time delays is an offender likely to be brought before the court and receive a punishment.

The paper, authored by former prison governor Kevin Lockyer, proposes a series of recommendations similar to the HOPE probation programme in Hawaii that is judge-led and sets out clear conditions for offenders with drug and alcohol related problems from the start of their sentence including short, sharp spells in prison for missing appointments with probation officers or failing a drug test. The scheme has been so successful in reducing reoffending rates that it has been replicated in 18 States across America.

The report says that replicating the HOPE model could lead to a 50% reduction in the 23,000 people not complying with the terms of their Community Orders. Under the new swift and certain system, between 6,000 and 8,500 could receive short prison sentences over the course of a year. Under current guidelines courts in England and Wales are discouraged from handing out custodial sentences.

Recommendations include:

  • The creation of a new ‘Conditional Behaviour Order’, as a requirement attached to Community Orders, which would set out guidelines including drug testing and alcohol monitoring for people with clear sanctions for non compliance.
  • Fast-tracking prolific offenders to dedicated ‘Breach Courts’ with specialist magistrates and judges sentencing guilty pleas within 24 hours of the decision to charge
  • The introduction of new Police Courts with magistrates sat in or nearby policy stations to immediately sentence low level offences where there has been a guilty plea


Glyn Gaskarth

Head of Crime & Justice

Charlotte McLeod

Crime & Justice Research Fellow, 2012-14

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