Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez: ‘Releasing rapists eary from prison sends out wrong message’

One of my core duties is to commission services for victims of crime in Devon and Cornwall. This practical and emotional support can take a variety of forms and caters for those who have been affected by relatively minor incidents to the most horrific of crimes.

Among those we work with are Independent Sexual Violence Advisers. These highly trained individuals play an important role in providing specialist support to victims and survivors of sexual violence, working with people who have experienced rape and sexual assault, irrespective of whether they have reported to the police.

Commissioning these services brings my office in regular contact with victims of rape and sexual assaults as we have a policy of bringing lived experience into our work. Sadly, for some victims of sexual assaults and rape the trauma they experience will last a lifetime.

We must send a strong message to victims and survivors and wider society that rape is wholly unacceptable. That is why I welcome plans unveiled by the Government to end the practice of early release for rapists and make them serve full prison terms.

The changes were among a number of reforms laid out by Justice Secretary Alex Chalk a fortnight ago.

While offenders guilty of more minor offences may be given community sentences like cleaning up local neighbourhoods instead of short prison sentences, more dangerous and serious offenders will be locked up for longer. The changes include lengthening the minimum prison sentences which sex offenders must serve and increasing the maximum sentence for those found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving.

Mr Chalk told the House of Commons that the reforms will ensure rapists spend the entirety of their sentence in prison – so victims get the justice they deserve and the British people are protected.

I know, through my work with the wider criminal justice system, that our prisons estate is under pressure. The uplift in police officer numbers which has led to record levels of police officers here in Devon and Cornwall does mean that more criminals will be arrested and those given custodial sentences will have to go somewhere. More prisons are being built, and there are another 20,000 prisoner places in the pipeline, but the Government and judiciary have to think carefully before committing someone to a prison term, not least because of the £47,000 a year cost of a prisoner place.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that short prison sentences are counterproductive, only serving to further criminalise people who have a good chance of being rehabilitated and going on to lead crime-free and productive lives – an outcome that is good for all of us.

A year ago councillors from around Devon and Cornwall attended a seminar in Plymouth where HM Prison and Probation Service described how Community Payback was being used on projects like clearing wasteland, cleaning up graffiti and decorating community centres. Several councillors – all part of my councillor advocate programme – have since worked with the service on projects in their community. Instead of wasting time in prison those who have been given a community sentence do something positive with their time which benefits others.

I think this is a sensible solution which will reduce reoffending – something which is estimated to cost the UK an astonishing £18bn a year. But I am pleased that expansion of Community Payback was announced alongside the plan to keep the most serious offenders locked up for longer.

At its best prison works to rehabilitate offenders so they are less likely to reoffend, but it has another important function – to keep the most dangerous people away from the rest of society. Releasing rapists early sent entirely the wrong message. I am pleased the Government has recognised this and will rebalance the legislation in favour of the victim and public safety.

If you are a local councillor who wants to understand more about policing details of how to join the advocate scheme are on the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner website under ‘join us’.

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