'Custody should only ever be used for the most serious offences' says spokesman as Cambridgeshire career criminals escape jail time
There were 12 career criminals in Cambridgeshire, who dodged immediate prison time last year despite having more than 75 previous offences, figures show.
This includes thieves, drug offenders and others convicted of public order crimes.
The Magistrates Association called on the Government to give courts greater flexibility with repeat offenders, including allowing greater control over rehabilitation orders.
Ministry of Justice figures show the number of people with previous convictions successfully prosecuted by Cambridgeshire Constabulary.
In the 12 months to September 2018, 37 criminals with more than 75 previous offences each were convicted, but 12 of those received no immediate prison sentence. The most common punishment, after immediate custody, was a fine
The Magistrates Association said: “Previous offending history is only one factor taken into consideration.”
National chairman John Bache explained: “Magistrates always consider each case on its own merits and follow strict sentencing guidelines. Repeat but very low-level offending would not necessarily reach the custody threshold.
“Custody should only ever be used for the most serious offences, where there are no appropriate alternatives which could fulfil sentencing aims.”
The most common crime type committed by reoffenders who avoided prison in Cambridgeshire was theft, with five cases. There were also four criminals who were convicted of public order offences and were not placed in immediate custody.
The Howard League for Penal Reform praised these sentences, saying custodial time does not prevent reoffending.
Chief executive Frances Crook commented: "What is the point in sending a homeless person to prison because they keep stealing sandwiches?
"The Government’s own research has shown that prison sentences for people who commit prolific nuisance offences have no impact, as they are often people who have nowhere to live or are shoplifting to feed a drug habit. We need to invest in turning lives round, rather than knee-jerk punishments that just make things worse.”
The number of criminals, with more than 75 sentences, in Cambridgeshire has increased slightly over the last five years. There were eight cases in 2013.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Sentencing is a matter for independent judges, but under this Government the most serious offenders are more likely to go to prison, and for longer.
“However, while prison will always be the only place for serious and violent offenders, there is persuasive evidence showing community sentences are often more effective in reducing reoffending than short spells behind bars.”