Tumim: More jail for drunk offenders

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER chief inspector of prisons Sir Stephen Tumim was at the centre of controversy last night after calling for the courts to impose tougher sentences on drunken offenders.

Sir Stephen believes that magistrates are allowing some offenders to get off lightly by treating their alcoholism as a mitigating factor when passing sentence.

He said: "I would advocate heavier not lighter sentences for the drunken criminal. The blame cannot be wholly levelled at `the booze', but should more often be levelled at the person who has chosen to misuse it.

"If you go and get solidly drunk in the pub and bash somebody, I think that is worse than just bashing somebody."

Sir Stephen's comments angered penal reformers and magistrates. Stephen Shaw, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said the former chief inspector was encouraging custodial sentences and prison overcrowding.

He said: "Sir Stephen ought to know that it is unlikely to improve the behaviour of such offenders by sending them to prison. Nevertheless, he is right to draw attention to the fact that our obsession with drugs diverts us from the much greater harm caused by the abuse of alcohol."

Magistrates complained that the former chief inspector was wrong to suggest alcoholics were given lighter sentences than other offenders.

The Magistrates' Association said the use of alcohol is "more often than not" regarded as an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor in sentencing. Anne Fuller, the association's chairman, said: "Magistrates see the result of alcohol abuse every day in their courts, from drunk and disorderly behaviour to domestic violence.

"The public should be assured that alcohol-related criminal behaviour is taken very seriously by the courts and sentences reflect this. One only has to look at drink-drive cases and the number of community penalties and custodial sentences given for high readings."

But Sir Stephen, who was never afraid of being outspoken during his time as chief inspector, was unrepentant last night as he prepared to expand on his views at a public lecture on alcohol abuse.

He said that although drunkenness did not lead to an increase in all forms of offending it was clearly linked to violent crime. "Drunks would find it hard to commit fraud or climb into a house and burgle it. But an increase in violence is likely," he said.

Sir Stephen was due to speak today at a conference on Alcohol and the Villain, organised to mark the 10th anniversary of the Portman Group, an organisation supported by 10 companies in the alcoholic drinks industry to promote sensible drinking.

The Portman Group's director, Jean Coussins, said she "supported 100 per cent" Sir Stephen's comments that some courts treated alcohol as a mitigating factor.

She said: "Just a casual look at our press cuttings confirms that. Although I hope it's not common practice, there are obviously some courts where magistrates are inclined to take the old-fashioned view that being drunk is out of character and should be seen as mitigating rather than aggravating."

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