As an example, one month in prison cost one of our clients her house and her children. She was sent to prison after she was unable to complete a community penalty following complications from childbirth. The original conviction was for a road traffic offence.
Her housing was already unstable, so her time in prison was enough for her to lose her tenancy. After more than two years, we were able to find a house for her, but her children remain in the care of her ex-partner, and she sees them only twice a week for supervised visits.
Our work with other families shows that even short periods of custody on remand can be enough to cause serious damage to relations with young children, who do not understand why their parent has "abandoned" them.
Does the symbolic or punitive value of a short sentence really justify the lasting harm to innocent children and families? We agree that offences should be punished – but only if that punishment is commensurate with the seriousness of the offence.
Short sentences create further problems (disruption of family relationships, loss of housing, loss of employment, a prison record) that makes further offending more rather than less likely. Surely we want a justice system that reduces the likelihood of victimisation and offending, not one that makes it worse.
(DR) NANCY LOUCKS
Great King Street