Riots (again)… should having kids spare you from jail?

And while I’m online…. Giving a mother of a one-year old and a five-year old a five month sentence for receiving a pair of stolen shorts looted in the riots. Someone who wasn’t involved in the actual trouble at all… Ludicrous. The usual sentence would be a fine or community service. That can be increased if there are aggravating features – and as I’ve already said, I accept that a certain ‘riot tariff’ should apply. But courts are also meant to take mitigating factors into account… And I think having two kids should be pretty high up there in their thoughts. (Leaving aside whether 5 months jail is in any circumstances an appropriate sentence for receiving a pair of stolen shorts).

Many years ago I used to work at a magistrates court and it was always very questionable the way that certain factors were accepted as mitigation… If someone had a job, they’d avoid custody because they’d lose their job. Whereas someone without a job who had done an equivalent crime would be jailed. It was as if (a) they were being blamed for not having a job and (b) it was seen that prison wouldn’t be such a hardship for them because it wouldn’t disrupt their lives as much.

It was the same re drink drivers or those caught doing more than 100mph… Company car drivers would keep their licences because (a) they could afford solicitors to put forward pleas in mitigation and (b) losing their licence would mean losing their job… Which is fair enough, but that did kind of mean that there was one justice for those in good jobs with flash cars, and another law for the rest.

Some people on Twitter have questioned whether having kids should be a wildcard to avoid jail… if the punishment should fit the crime, not the criminal, and they should have thought of their kids before committing the crime. Which on one level is fair enough… But there’s now a one year old and a five year old whose mother has been whisked away to jail. The other woman who lived in the house, the one who looted all the stuff, is also in jail, on remand. There might be a Dad around, or grandparents, or aunts or uncles ready to look after the kids but I don’t think the court was too concerned about that… I’m glad the Family Rights Group, who I’ve been working with on my Kinship Carers Bill, are raising these issues. I hope I can help them in this.

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  • Gert  On August 14, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    It’s a subject that requires some nuance. I was reading a report a while back by a respected Baroness about *women* in jail, which argued that women shouldn’t be jailed on account of them being mothers (a logical failure, of course). A bit later I found out about an acquaintance who was remanded in custody on an ABH charge. A widower, his parental status was not considered, and his daughter stayed several months with friends. He was eventually acquitted and the judge said he should never have been remanded, and specifically apologised to his daughter, given the circumstances.

  • kerrymccarthy  On August 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    That would be the Corston report, by Baroness Jean Corston, my predecessor as MP for Bristol East.

  • Gert  On August 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    That’s the one! I’m afraid I occasionally have memory loss that even Google can’t solve! I agreed with the thrust of the report but for the two anomalies I have alluded to.

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