Today Sheriff Robert Dickson sitting at Airdrie Sheriff Court criticised a nameless official for releasing a prolific offender after having served just one third of a 15 month sentence. While deferring sentencing Jason Jarvie for an offence he committed following his early release Sheriff Dickson said:
When you should have been incarcerated and innocent homeowners should have been protected from your mindless behaviour, some nameless official has chosen to ignore a judicial decision, to turn an apparent blind eye to your past record of ignoring curfews and to allow you the freedom to damage the property of somebody you did not know.
There can be no doubt that had you remained in the young offenders’ institution for the time selected by the sheriff, this crime could not have been committed.
I and every other sheriff can no longer give any assurance to the public that they are going to be protected for any particular period if our decisions can be overruled by a person who has neither heard the facts of the case nor had any input to the judicial decision to select a particular length of custody.
I particularly like the last paragraph. At long last someone in the judiciary has come out and said what both lawyers and lay people have been thinking for years. What’s even more important his emphasis on the fact that he nor any other sheriff sitting in the country can give any assurances to the public that they are in fact going to be safe from individuals who should be in prison. While I am not a fan of prison and believe that we use it too often, this is certainly an individual who needs to be behind bars. He is a prolific offender who has a history of committing crimes of violence.
Prison is there as an option for the judiciary to send people to who the public need to be protected from (i.e. violent and prolific offenders). People should serve the full sentence that the sheriff or judge hands down, regardless of whether they plead guilty or have behaved well in prison. If we use prison sensibly and send only violent and prolific offenders to prison the there would be no need for early release schemes as the prisons wouldn’t be full!
The Scottish Government is looking to overhaul sentencing and brining to an end automatic early release. One does hope that while they do this they use common sense and provide sentencing guidelines that mean those who deserve to be in prison are in prison and serve sentences of an appropriate length.
Had this individual not been released from prison early he would not have been able to commit the offence that he did and the sheriff also did well in stating this explicitly. The public perception of justice has to be that it is happening and nobody can be confident of that in the current climate. When the public hear of sheriffs publicly declaring the system as flawed in the way the Sheriff Dickson has today their perception can only be that the system is not working and thus they have no confidence in it.