Looters were handed much longer jail sentences than normal for crimes such as burglary after the courts bowed to demands from ministers to hit rioters with tough punishments, official figures disclosed yesterday.
Nearly three-quarters of those charged after last month's disturbances in London and other major English cities had criminal records, raising fresh questions over prisons' failure to rehabilitate offenders.
After the riots David Cameron led government demands for the courts to process cases quickly and impose stringent penalties on troublemakers. New Ministry of Justice figures yesterday showed that judges and magistrates have heeded the call and are passing sentences up to three times longer than were imposed a year earlier.
The average jail term was 14.1 months for burglary (8.8 months last year), two years for robbery (8.8 months), 7.1 months for theft (2.4 months) and 10.4 months for violent disorder (5.3 months).
More than four in 10 rioters sentenced by magistrates have been sent to jail, compared with a usual imprisonment rate of around 12 per cent. Crown Courts are also taking a much more punitive approach, sending 90 per cent of offenders to prison, compared with one in three last year for similar offences.
The statistics suggested that the majority of rioters already had criminal records, with the proviso that people already known to the police were more likely to have been identified from CCTV footage.
Only 27 per cent of suspected rioters had no record, while nearly half had committed up to 10 offences and one in 20 more than 50 offences. Those with records had committed an average of 15 offences – a figure that underlines the heavy involvement of career criminals.
Two-thirds had never been to jail, which will fuel accusations that community sentences and fines had failed to correct their behaviour. Whitehall officials said those involved in the violence were "much more likely than the population as a whole to have previous convictions".
Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, has blamed the trouble on a "broken penal system" that has failed to deal with a "feral underclass" – although the Chief Inspector of Prisons has warned that the Government has failed to get its much-vaunted "rehabilitation revolution" underway. Yesterday he praised the courts for delivering "swift and firm justice, which stopped the riots spreading further", but admitted he was "dismayed to see a hard core of repeat offenders back in the system". He said he feared it would take a generation to cure society of the problems which sparked the riots.
He echoed a warning from Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, that the middle classes ignored the plight of people living on run-down estates for years and then paid the price when the inner city "came to call" last month.
Sadiq Khan MP, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: "The fact that so many of the perpetrators of these crimes had committed several previous offences makes clear the need to reform them, so we can avoid this happening again in the future."Reuse content