7 Commentary: Sentencing ( Tables 7 to 12, Charts 3 and 4)
7.1 The overall number of convictions resulting in a custodial sentence in 2005/06 was 16,000, a decrease of 4 per cent on the figure for 2004/05 .
7.2 Custody is the most frequently used penalty for most types of crime involving violence. Excluding homicide and rape and attempted rape, the categories with the highest proportions of convictions resulting in a custodial sentence in 2005/06 were robbery (67 per cent), serious assault (48 per cent) and housebreaking (44 per cent).
7.3 The average length of determinate custodial sentences over most of the last decade has been between seven and eight months. Over half (57 per cent) of all custodial sentences in 2005/06 were for three months or less; 83 per cent were for six months or less. The average length of determinate custodial sentences is just below seven months because of the effect of the relatively small number of long sentences. Crimes of violence were the most likely to attract long custodial sentences. Only 1 per cent of custodial sentences for crimes of dishonesty were for over two years whereas the corresponding proportions for non-sexual crimes of violence and crimes of indecency were 41 per cent and 47 per cent respectively. In 2005/06, drug offences accounted for 28 per cent of all custodial sentences of four years or more.
Chart 3: Average sentence length (1) and per cent of custody by type of crime or offence, 2005/06
7.4 The total number of convictions resulting in a community sentence in 2005/06 totalled just under 16,500, an decrease of 3 per cent compared with 2004/05. This was the second year in a row that community sentences outnumbered custodial sentences. Over the last ten years, the use of community sentences has generally increased as a proportion of all sentences imposed by the courts: they accounted for 13 per cent of all sentences in 2005/06 compared with 8 per cent in 1996/97.
7.5 In 2005/06, the number of convictions resulting in a probation order (including probation with a requirement that the offender shall perform unpaid work) was just over 9,000 (4 per cent less than in 2004/05). The proportion of convictions resulting in an offender being placed on probation was highest for lewd and indecent behaviour (43 per cent) followed by indecent assault (38 per cent) and "other violence" (23 per cent).
7.6 The number of convictions in 2005/06 resulting in a community service order was 5,300, a decrease of 2 per cent compared with 2004/05. In 2005/06, the category with the highest proportion of convictions resulting in a community service order was serious assault (20 per cent of convictions). The average length of community service order imposed in 2005/06 was 146 hours.
7.7 Other forms of community sentence were available to courts in a number of areas in 2005/06. These included restriction of liberty orders (available nationally) (1,200 sentences) and drug treatment and testing orders ( DTTOs, available nationally but for a few small courts in Argyll and Bute) (800 sentences), and a small number of Community Reparation Orders and Antisocial Behaviour Orders The average length of DTTO imposed was 28 months.
7.8 Between 1996/97 and 2005/06, the use of fines, the most common main penalty imposed by courts, has generally fallen both absolutely and as a proportion of all penalties imposed. This is in part a result of those offences most likely to be punished by fines increasingly being dealt with outside the court, for example by police conditional offers or "fiscal fines". Fines were the main penalty imposed in 62 per cent of convictions in 2005/06, the same as the proportion in 2004/05 and seven percentage points below the 69 per cent figure recorded for 1996/97. In 2005/06, a fine was the most frequent penalty imposed in convictions for motor vehicle offences (91 per cent), breach of the peace (59 per cent) and drunkenness (76 per cent). Although less commonly used for crimes, a fine was still the main penalty in around half of convictions for "other" crimes of indecency (44 per cent), fraud (48 per cent), drug offences (63 per cent), vandalism (54 per cent) and common assault (49 per cent).
7.9 Excluding cases where a company was fined, the average fine imposed by courts in 2005/06 was £212, a decrease of 3 per cent compared with the average in 2004/05 (£218), but 2 per cent higher than the average in 2003/04 (£208).
7.11 In 2005/06, admonition or the use of caution was the main penalty in 11 per cent of convictions, similar to the proportion in previous years. This type of sentence was a relatively frequent outcome in convictions for the "other" crimes of indecency category (29 per cent of convictions), the "other" violence category (20 per cent of convictions), crimes against public justice (23 per cent), drunkenness (19 per cent) and breach of the peace (20 per cent). Orders to find caution - where the offender is required to pledge a sum of money subject to their subsequent good behaviour - were rarely used, accounting for only 104 main penalties in 2005/06.
Chart 4: Average fine and per cent fined by type of crime or offence, 2005/06
Sentencing by sex and age of offender
7.12 The pattern of penalties imposed in 2005/06 varied with the age and gender of the offender. In part this is likely to reflect the different patterns of offending and conviction histories of the different groups of offenders. While males accounted for 84 per cent of all convictions in 2005/06, they represented 92 per cent of custodial convictions. Females accounted for 15 per cent of all convictions (excluding companies) but for 25 per cent of other sentences (mainly admonition).
7.13 Between 2004/05 and 2005/06, the number of convictions resulting in a custodial sentence decreased by 4 per cent. The largest percentage decrease was in females under 21 (down by 34 percent). Females aged 21-30 also showed a decrease (down by 13%), though females over 30 showed an increase (up by 12 per cent). For males, a decrease for the 21-30 category (of 11 per cent) was offset slightly by increases for under 21 and over 30 categories (increases of 4 and 2 per cent respectively).
7.14 Between 2004/05 and 2005/06, the number of convictions resulting in a community sentence decreased by 3 per cent (to 13,800) for males and by 1 per cent (to 2,700) for females. Decreases were recorded for all sex and age categories, except for females aged under 21 (up 1 per cent to 574) .
7.15 Between 2004/05 and 2005/06, the number of convictions resulting in a financial penalty decreased by 4 per cent (to 68,500) for males and by 10 per cent (to 12,100) for females. Decreases were recorded for all sex and age categories, the highest being females aged 21-30 and over 30 (up 11 per cent each).