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The Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC), which gives guidelines for consistent sentencing for courts in England and Wales, has proposed changes that would lighten punishment for thieves who target vulnerable victims, such as the elderly.
The guidelines recommend that more community service, and less jail time, be required of those who steal to support an addictive habit, such as drugs, alcohol or gambling. The SGC has advised judges and magistrates to take the offender’s addictive dependency into account when deciding on a punishment.
Currently, punishment for targeting vulnerable victims is 18 weeks in jail. If the guidelines are passed, those who commit crimes to support their habits may avoid incarceration altogether—even if minor injury or intimidation was involved.
The suggested SGC guidelines state the following: “Many offenders convicted of acquisitive crimes are motivated by an addiction, often to drugs, alcohol or gambling. This does not mitigate the seriousness of the offence, but an offender’s dependency may properly influence the type of sentence imposed.”
The Sentencing Advisory Panel, which advises the SGC, stated that 20% of shoplifters could be treated more leniently. The panel also said it may occasionally be fitting to prescribe drug rehabilitation or alcohol treatment instead of prison time.
Conservatives have said proposed guidelines are an attempt to reduce the prison population by finding other forms of punishment. The population has recently reached 82,000 for the first time; 80 prisoners per day are being released early to keep numbers at a minimum.