The Home Office is being called upon to review sentencing policy following a report which shows Britain's judges are the most severe in Europe.
The report issued by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO) shows English and Scottish judges favour longer jail terms than their counterparts from other European countries, with Denmark and the Netherlands proving the most lenient.
US judges handed out the harshest sentences.
A spokesman for NACRO says: “The report will be sent on to ministers. We will recommend they should have a look at the whole issue of sentencing policy and the tariffs.
“In recent times sentences have certainly gone up quite considerably. Sentences are too long and are often disproportionate to the crime. All too often other alternatives are just not sought.”
The report coincides with a Home Office crackdown on burglars who face a minimum three-year jail term if convicted for a third time. NACRO says courts should have the discretion to “choose sentences which fit the widely varying circumstances of each case”.
It also coincides with a Prison Reform Trust report showing the number of people serving life sentences in British jails has risen above 4,000 for the first time. This compares to a total of 3,000 in the whole of rest of the European Union.
The evidence for the NACRO report is based on two seminars organised by the International Comparisons in Criminal Justice.
Judges from several countries attended the seminars revealing the sentences they would have passed if those cases had come before them.
Cases varied from very serious offences – such as murder – to lesser ones such as theft.
The report, entitled Contrasting Judgements, concludes: “The discussions confirmed that individual judges were anxious to make use of community penalties rather than send offenders to custody wherever they thought the use of imprisonment could be avoided.
“It was recognised that crime and the fear of crime were major current issues in European countries and that against that background, community penalties were often perceived as giving inadequate protection to the public.”