Magistrates urged to rethink jail terms

South Yorkshire magistrates are more than twice as likely to send someone to prison as courts in other parts of the country, according to figures released this week.

New research by the Howard League for Penal Reform shows people who have been convicted of a crime in England and Wales face a postcode lottery when they are sentenced.

The charity says a growing number of magistrates’ benches are making ‘good use’ of community sentences which reduce crime and help people to turn their lives around.

However, it says some are still imposing prison sentences in cases where they are ‘unnecessary’.

Courts in South Yorkshire imposed custodial sentences in 3.7 per cent of the cases they heard in 2011 – more often than areas such as Warwickshire (1.5 per cent) and Northumbria (1.6 per cent).

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “A short-term prison sentence is a catastrophe for everyone. It does not help change the life of the person sentenced – indeed, it is likely to compound issues such as drug addiction and make them more likely to reoffend.”