Bridget Phillipson: ‘Community sentences can be effective at reducing reoffending’

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Justice Secretary’s Ken Clarke’s ill-advised and inaccurate comments on rape have rightly caused controversy.

It’s deeply worrying that he made a distinction between “date” rape and “serious” rape.

He hadn’t even bothered to speak to any victims of rape before saying that convicted rapists should face shorter prison sentences.

Last year the Government was forced to back down when it announced plans to give anonymity to defendants in rape trials.

Victims and their families have many justifiable grievances with our criminal justice system and much more needs to be done to support them. Clarke’s comments and this planned policy will do nothing to help.

I’ve always believed that community sentences can be effective at reducing reoffending.

Someone who shoplifts to feed their alcohol habit needs help and treatment or otherwise they’ll continue committing crime. But I draw the line at violent crime.

Prison is the right place for those who cause harm to others and ruin lives in the process.

The Government is proposing that criminals who plead guilty early – whatever that means – will get a “50 per cent discount” on their prison sentence.

Aside from the appalling term “50 per cent discount” – which would be better placed in a supermarket – there is no evidence that it would lead to more early guilty pleas or a reduction in violent crime.

The public already feel that serious criminals don’t spend long enough in prison as it is.

Ken Clarke and his Government are out of touch. They’re presenting cutting sentences as positive reform of the criminal justice system, but it doesn’t make any of us safer or help communities ravaged by crime.

It all comes down to saving money rather than protecting the public.

My highlight of the month had to be seeing Take That and the Pet Shop Boys – like thousands of others I had a great night.

It’s been an important boost to the local economy with fans travelling to Sunderland from across the UK and spending money in the city.

We need to continue to build on this – making Sunderland the unrivalled choice for big acts but also supporting the thriving local scene.

I hope this rebirth of Sunderland as a music venue will lead to private investment to build more hotels and B & Bs so that when people visit our city they can always stay in our city.

My lowlight of the month was missing President Obama’s speech to Parliament. I was struck down by the virus that half of Wearside seems to have had and I ended up watching it on television from my sickbed.