Bill drafted to reform policy on sentencing

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THE probation officers' association has drafted a Parliamentary Bill which will limit the use of debtors' jail to those who wilfully refuse to pay fines, writes Jason Bennetto.

It will be introduced as a Private Member's Bill in June, and probation officers believe this could cut the number of people jailed for debt by 75 per cent.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: 'Napo believes that the use of debtors' jail is costly and ineffective. Fines are wiped out, not recovered; debt and misery is perpetuated. Last year the prison department spent nearly pounds 15m to hold the debtors in prison. In addition millions were spent on court and administration costs. Sentencing policy is inconsistent and clearly the law needs to be changed.'

A Home Office spokeswoman said: 'The credibility of the fine has to be maintained by an appropriate sanction if it is not paid. Prison is the only available deterrent to ensure that people will pay the fines.' Only a very small minority of offenders ended up in prison for non-payment, she added.