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Parting shot at Government by our top judge
TOO many criminals are being jailed and the Government is not doing enough to help, one of Oxford’s most eminent judges has said.
His Honour Christopher Compston has stepped down from Oxford Crown Court after 12 years with a warning that people with mental health problems were being turned into criminals by a system which offered little hope of rehabilitation. And he said that judicial powers to offer more lenient sentences were being eroded by the Ministry of Justice.
The 72-year-old, who lives in north Oxfordshire, became known on the circuit for his reluctance to jail offenders, instead offering them a chance at redemption.
He told the Oxford Mail: “There are far too many people in prison. Of those people, far too many have mental health problems. Far too many are plain inadequate. I think just to punish and do nothing to rehabilitate is folly, it is daft.
“They talk about prison as revolving doors, and it is true – it can be terribly difficult.
“The Government should send fewer people to prison and divert some of the prison money into monitoring and mentoring these people.
“There is a small hardcore of people who are bad and dangerous, and even evil, but most criminals are essentially inadequate, and many of them have a horribly difficult time in life.
“I feel very sorry for them, because they are so ill-equipped.”
Judge Compston became a circuit judge in 1986 and sat in London for 15 years, before spending 12 years at Oxford.
He has sat on mental health tribunals, in family courts, and in the High Court throughout his long career.
Over this time he said his belief in prison-gate mentors formed.
Every prisoner released in England and Wales would have a designated helper, a friend or volunteer, to help get their life back on track.
During a farewell ceremony at Oxford Crown Court he said: “When I was appointed in 1986 I had a distant cousin and he stood up and said ‘may I warn you about the steady erosion of judicial independence’, and how right he was. Inch by inch it has been eroded.”
Judge Compston was hailed by contemporaries and colleagues in law during the address.
In it a sentence he passed at Oxford Crown Court in 2011 was given as a notable example of his disdain for quickly locking criminals away. He spared three men, two from Wallingford and one from Drayton St Leonard, jail following their attack on a thief who had robbed an autistic man.
His line “to send you to prison you will only come out worse, not better”, was held up as example of his strength of character. And his words were welcomed by a man who spent much of his early life in trouble with the law.
Steve Walker, a worker at the Leys Community Centre, turned his life around after 15 years of addiction to drugs and became a published author. The Bicester resident said: “Something different badly needs to be done to get people off the merry-go-round of prison.
“A lot of the people I met were not bad at all, their lives took a wrong turn and they found themselves stuck,” he added.
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