MP ‘not surprised’ by number of convicts let off prison, but says focus is in the wrong place

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning
Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning says he is not worried by the rise in number of suspended sentences handed out to criminals in Herts.

The county has seen a higher increase in the number of non-custodial sentences than anywhere else in the country, with an 82-fold rise in the number given out since 2002.

In figures released by the Centre for Crime Prevention, the county comes out top because the number of suspended sentences given has rocketed from 10 in 2002, to 812 a decade later.

But Mr Penning says he is ‘not surprised’ so few people are ordered to serve prison time as the county’s crime rate is relatively low.

He said: “I don’t think there is a problem. We are lucky there is a very low crime rate in this county and in my constituency, so it doesn’t surprise me that we have fewer custodial sentences.

“But I do have a problem when people who commit more serious offences don’t get put away for long enough.

“We need to make sure people are going to prison for the right reasons and for the right length of time.”

Herts’ police and crime commissioner David Lloyd agreed the figure is nothing to worry about, explaining they are distorted by a nationwide change in use of suspended sentences years ago.

He said: “The issue around suspended sentences is a complex one, but we are working against a background of crime falling, not rising, in Hertfordshire and the UK generally.

“The public understanding of suspended sentences perhaps paints a different picture to what the reality is – it is still a criminal conviction, and it isn’t the case they aren’t being punished.

“There are conditions, and if another crime is committed, the suspended sentence is also taken into account. I think most people would feel chastened by a suspended sentence, society still shows disapproval for what they have done, and the jail sentences are then used for the most serious of offences.”

Herts’ most recent data shows that 36% of all prison sentences are now suspended, compared to just 1% 12 years ago.

Hertfordshire’s rise is even 5% higher than the national average, which has risen by 31% over the same period.