Police chief calls for tougher sentences

Prison is the only option for career criminals a top Norfolk police officer insisted last night after a “menace on society” who committed more than 100 offences was jailed once more.

Prison is the only option for career criminals a top Norfolk police officer insisted last night after a “menace on society” who committed more than 100 offences was jailed once more.

The comments came after the EDP revealed mounting pressure on courts to impose fewer custodial sentences as the government struggles to cope with the nation's prison population. Newly-appointed justice minister Lord Falconer said that while dangerous criminals must still be jailed, lower risk offenders should be dealt with in the community.

But Supt Jim Smerdon said there was a hardcore of criminals for whom there was no alternative to jail. He was speaking after prolific car thief Kevin Page was jailed for seven months after being caught attempting to steal a vehicle just days after being released from prison.

Mr Smerdon said: “This is an individual who has cost taxpayers a significant amount of money and whose behaviour has caused a huge amount of distress within the community.

“As a police force we currently have no other option but to target people like this the moment they are released and pick up their offending as soon as it becomes apparent and get them back before the courts as soon as possible.”

The 23-year-old of St Mildred's Road, Norwich, took part in the Home Office's Prolific Offenders Programme in 2004 but was imprisoned just 13 days after starting the programme. At the time his own solicitor admitted jailing him would only provide temporary respite.

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Page appeared at Norwich Crown Court on Thursday where he admitted attempted car theft after being caught in the act by a member of the public. He had been released earlier that week.

Although Page was described as having a “breathtaking” criminal record he would appear to fit Lord Falconer's criteria for those who should be dealt with in the community. The justice minister told the EDP such individuals should be “non-violent offenders who are not considered a threat to the public and who would face a term of 12 months or less”.

But Mr Smerdon said non-custodial sentences for people like Page were not currently viable and new methods must be found to force them to face up to their behaviour.

“All the agencies involved - the police, the prisons, probation and the Ministry for Justice - need to come up with radical ideas so we can give courts new options for dealing with these offenders,” he said.

“At the moment there is no alternative to prison. In Page's case it has become clear that he cannot be dealt with in the community because he will carry on offending to fund his drug habit.

“But, because of the nature of his offences, the court's sentencing power is always going to be relatively low. It is frustrating because although prison will act as a punishment, it will not succeed in rehabilitating him.

“Perhaps the answer would be to devote a greater part of a sentence to rehabilitation or to force somebody to make use of the help that is on offer. However, in a lot of cases you can't help somebody who doesn't want to change.”