Minister Rory: Campaigns against sentences of less than six months

Prisons minister Rory Stewart says the move would help the rehabilitation of offenders and ease pressure on prison spaces.

He added: “You bring somebody in for three or four weeks, they lose their house, their job, their family, their reputation.

“They come [into prison], they meet a lot of interesting characters (to put it politely) and then you whap them on to the streets again.

“The public are safer if we have a good community sentence… and it will relieve a lot of pressure on prisons.”

Prisons minister Rory Stewart says the move would assist prisoner rehabilitation

Around 30,000 offenders a year including some burglars and most shoplifters could be spared jail under the proposals. Some burglars and most shoplifters are among those who would avoid going to jail under the plans.

Mr Stewart said that the exception to his plans would be violent offenders or those convicted of sex offences.

He told the newspaper that such a move would free up 4,000 prison places and create more space for education and workshops, adding: “We can change lives more”.

The number of prisoners has doubled since the 1990s to around 80,000 and around 60% of short-term prisoners re-offend within a year of their release, the Telegraph says.

The Prison Reform Trust says that almost half of prisoners in England and Wales have been sentenced to six months or less.

In a report last year called Prison: The Facts, the trust said short prison sentences were less effective than community-based sentences, yet use of the latter had more than halved in the previous decade.

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: Ministers should be congratulated for having the political courage to start the debate.”

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