All or nothing

Metro and The Daily Express today reheat a Telegraph article from a few days ago on latest sentencing statistics, which reveal that in 2008 the maximum sentence for burglary was not used. For some reason, the papers consider this a major news story, and some sort of damning sign of a weak justice system.

The maximum sentence for burglary is 14 years – no matter how you look at it, 14 years of someone’s life is an incredibly long time – and is set aside for only the most extreme cases. After all, if most burglars were being given the maximum sentence, what do you give the even more extreme ones?

The Express goes further, with the headline “10,000 burglars get light sentences”, which quite plainly isn’t true. The 10,000 figure is the total number of burglaries committed last year, so that would mean every single burglar got a light sentence. The CPS recommends a bare minimum of 9 months – and even then, only for first time offenders who didn’t use force and stole from an empty building – and while 9 months isn’t incredibly severe, even that’s barely “light”. A repeat offender or someone who targets the elderly will get in excess of 4 years, and case law recommends 8.

There are a long list of aggravating factors given by the CPS – targeting vulnerable people, vandalism, professional planning, racial motivation, the use of force, injury caused to the victim, and so on. It seems unlikely that most burglaries will involve all or most of these, which is presumably why maximum sentences are rare. Since I’m not a lawyer, I can’t say for certain whether perhaps someone should have been given the maximum sentence last year, but from a statistical point of view, it’s perfectly reasonable that no-one would get a full 14 year sentence.

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