Magistrates’ courts, based in Bedford and Luton, handed down 12,098 sentences to men, women and children during 2011, of which 443 were custodial.
But the percentage of custodial sentences handed out varies from county to county.
The maximum sentence that a magistrates’ court can impose is a six-month prison term, or up to 12 months in total for more than one offence.
Ministry of Justice figures show that short-term prison sentences are failing to cut crime. Only 36 per cent of adults who began community orders between April 2010 and March 2011 went on to re-offend within a year. In contrast, 58 per cent of adults went on to re-offend after completing a prison sentence of 12 months or less during the same period.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “A short-term prison sentence is a catastrophe for everyone. It does not help change the life of the person sentenced – indeed, it is likely to compound issues such as drug addiction and make them more likely to re-offend. It costs the taxpayer a fortune and it does nothing to help or ease trauma for victims."
Prison sentence or community service? What do you think?