Letter: Facile comparison of prison statistics

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The Independent Online
Sir: In your report of a study by the National Council for Civil Liberties (12 October), you printed the rhetorical question asked by the society: 'If law and order can be maintained adequately in Shepton Mallett without sending anyone to prison, why does South Thameside send almost a fifth of a similarly sized population of offenders to prison?'

Had the writer of this study examined the statistics from which he had obtained his figures a little more closely, he would have found what is almost certainly the


If he had studied the figures for perhaps the most serious offences dealt with by magistrates, ie, violence against the person and burglary, he would have found that 18.5 per cent of all those charged at Thameside were charged with violence, as compared to 3.5 per cent at Shepton Mallett. And he would also have found that 14.8 per cent were charged with burglary at Thameside compared with a mere 0.8 per cent at Shepton Mallett. In terms of numbers, 48 men were charged with burglary in the year at Thameside, while only two men were charged with burglary at Shepton Mallett.

I have never been to Shepton Mallett or South Thameside, but I suspect that they are two very different areas. To attempt to make a comparison between the two is pointless and misleading. If both courts had the same figure for the use of custody, there would be cause for concern.

I think it is a great shame that an organisation such as the NCCL should indulge in such facile analysis. It can only discredit itself and its cause.

Yours faithfully,


Clerk to the Justices

Redbridge Magistrates' Court

Ilford, Essex

14 October