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BIG DEBATE: Charging criminals cash for crimes—to help their victims

PUBLISHED: 09:06 13 August 2014 | UPDATED: 09:06 13 August 2014

[Photo: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

[Photo: Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

2003 Getty Images

Criminals are to be forced to pay cash for their crimes when they are banged up behind bars. Tough measures come into effect on September 1, estimated to bring in £1.5 million to be used to help their victims recover from devastating effects of crime. But legal reformers say those sent to jail are just being used to prop up the economy. The Justice group of lawyers and MPs argues that money saved by handing out more community punishments instead of jail sentences costing the taxpayer could be used for victims instead.

Mike Penning and Jodie BlackstockMike Penning and Jodie Blackstock

FOR...

Victims’ Minister Mike Penning wants to close a loop-hole and stop dodgy criminals opting for a longer stretch rather than pay up to help their victims. He says:

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It is only right that offenders pay both for their crimes and help repair the damage they have done. I want victims to get the support they need and deserve, through counselling, the criminal justice process or another form of support.

"I want to make criminals literally pay for the devastating effects of their crime"

Victims’ Minister Mike Penning

Being a victim of crime is an awful and traumatic experience, so we must do everything possible to help them—and make sure their brave decision to bring offenders to justice doesn’t become a burden.

I worked in the emergency services for years, so I’ve seen the impact of crime on people first hand and know it can devastate lives.

I understand coming forward and reliving what has happened will never be an easy experience.

But, as Victims’ Minister, I want to make it easier for criminals, literally, pay for their crimes.

"Supervision rather than jail would save prison budget which could be used for victims"

Jodie Blackstock

Offenders will pay to support services so that more help for victims comes from the pockets of criminals.

That’s the way it should be. Magistrates will order criminals to pay the Victim Surcharge rather than spend an extra day in jail to avoid it.

This will fix an injustice while also raising £1.5m more to help people recover from horrific crimes such as murder and rape.

Cash from offenders has been earmarked to buy portable cameras, around the size of a name badge, for takeaway workers which can be activated to capture evidence of racial abuse.

There are three pilot schemes taking place—for pre-trial cross examinations, the first-ever dedicated fund to support male rape victims and funding the 15th new female rape support centre since 2010.

But I know more can always be done to ensuring victims get the best possible treatment—from the second a crime takes place to justice being done, and beyond.

We will make criminals pay to help victims recover from the devastating effects of their crime.

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AGAINST...

Jodie Blackstock is Director of Criminal and EU Justice Policy for JUSTICE, a professional body of lawyers inside and outside Parliament dedicated to human rights and the rule of law. She believes justice won’t be served forcing those locked up and without earnings to pay for a victims’ programme that could be financed by savings from using more community punishment rather than prison. She says:

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The victim surcharge does generate funds to provide vital services for victims—but imposing a surcharge on people put behind bars must be seen against a raft of new measures in the Criminal Justice & Courts Bill currently progressing through Parliament.

The Bill will require all offenders, including those sentenced to prison, to pay mandatory court charges on top of prosecution costs, compensation, fines and victim surcharges.

This is a big change to the present system where the State not only bears the cost of bringing charges against its citizens, the courts also have discretion to decide the financial impositions a wrong-doer must pay, according to their means and whether it is just and reasonable to do so.

The guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service indicates that costs should not be sought where a lengthy jail term is ordered.

It also comes against the backdrop of a government edict in June that fines are set to rise significantly.

How much should offenders be expected to contribute to reducing the economic deficit when they are locked away and have little income?

Statistics show recovering financial impositions after one year is only half of the amount of fines imposed, so it is difficult to see how loading further financial punishment is the best way to help victims.

The cost of enforcing such penalties stood at £54m in 2011-12.

But a focus on rehabilitating offenders with community supervision, rather than jail, would mean significant savings to the prison budget, which could be used for victim services as well as reducing the rate of reoffending.

I welcome the work being undertaken to improve support for victims affected by crime, as well as their experience of the criminal justice system.

But the government should continue to develop mechanisms to cut spending and curb crime that really work.

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