PAEDOPHILES and violent offenders are getting their sentences reduced because coronavirus has lead to a "harsh regime" in prisons, it has been reported.
Judges have been giving criminals shorter sentences since April after the Court of Appeal ruled the effect of Covid-19 measures could be taken into account in the sentencing of a man who sexually abused a schoolgirl.
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Since then, crooks have seen their sentences reduced, The Times reports.
Last week, a gang of Romanian burglars who carried out 12 raids and stole irreplaceable antiquarian books were given shorter sentences.
In April, Paul Reed – who have 27 previous convictions – received a lower sentence for assaulting his former partner.
Last month, two balaclava-wearing burglars who terrorised a family were given sentences that took into account they would be spending 23 hours a day in a cell.
In July, a sex offender who was caught online trying to groom an underage girl was jailed for 20 months – which was a reduced sentence because of the Covid-19 prison regime and his guilty plea.
Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, warned that "there is a real danger that Covid expediency is taking precedence over justice".
Tim Loughton, a Conservative MP and member of the home affairs select committee, warned it was a "Covid bonus for prisoners" that sent out the wrong message.
In April, the Court of Appeal said the impact of the killer bug on prison conditions was a legitimate factor for judges to consider during sentencing.
At the end of June, the Sentencing Council – the body that sets guidelines for judges – highlighted it was "aware of and understands the concerns that many people have about the effect the Covid-19 emergency is having on conditions in prisons and the potentially heavier impact of custodial sentences on offenders and their families".
The outbreak has put the justice system under significant pressure that resulted in worse conditions for prisoners.
Some prisons have seen the virus spread like wildfire.
Some inmates with symptoms were locked in their cells and weren't allowed to shower for weeks and other had family visits banned for significantly restricted, Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons has said.
Judges are allowed to apply their discretion and not every case has seen a reduction in sentence.
The virus is also considered alongside other factors such as guilty pleas.
John Cooper, QC, an experienced criminal law specialist, said that courts "are now granting bail in circumstances where they might not have done in the past because of the issues Covid raises in custody".
Dame Vera told The Times that the system was facing "enormous challenges".
She added: "However, from the point of view of victims, we must recognise that they are seeing more offenders being diverted away from courts and towards out-of-court disposals, more plea bargains being accepted by the CPS, longer delays in getting cases to court, and now, sentences being reduced due to the impact of Covid on prison regimes.
"From an offender’s perspective, we are also seeing custody time limits being increased to take into account court backlogs.”
Tory MP Mr Loughton added: "But if you’re looking at somebody getting several years’ jail — hopefully in a year’s time the Covid pressure will have come off and conditions will have improved. But they’ve got their discount upfront."
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