Prison population could rise due to early plea incentive reforms, MPs say
The prison population could jump by 4,000 as a result of proposed changes to the scheme that gives criminals reductions in their sentences in return for an early guilty plea, MPs have said.
The Justice Committee has been studying draft sentencing guidelines that will maintain the current one-third reduction on offer if defendants plead guilty at the first opportunity in court.
However the plans but will cut the reduction for those who plead guilty at a later stage from a quarter of their sentence to 20%.
The MPs conclude that the tightening of the rules could encourage people to take their chances at a full trial if they have already passed up the maximum reduction.
Committee chairman Bob Neill said: “There has not been enough research to assess the possible impact on prisons and other aspects of the criminal justice system.
“The Sentencing Council should conduct further research into the factors that influence a defendant’s decision to plead guilty, to inform a more comprehensive and robust reassessment of the draft guideline, taking into account costs and savings to all aspects of the criminal justice system, especially the prison population.”
Defendants should be allowed to delay making their initial plea if they wish to take legal advice or seek further information, the committee suggests.
The MPs also argue the Sentencing Council should look at whether the new rules will disproportionately affect those with mental health problems or learning difficulties.
“The Council should undertake a comprehensive equality impact analysis, and consider how to mitigate any adverse impacts relating to defendants with protected characteristics including disability,” Mr Neill urged.
A spokesman for the Sentencing Council said: “[We are] grateful for the Justice Select Committee’s careful consideration of our proposals.
“Over the next few months we will be looking at the committee’s recommendations alongside the views received in nearly 180 responses to our consultation.
“All responses receive detailed consideration and we frequently make changes to our drafts as a result of the insights we receive from respondents.”