Mindful of Language – Myths of the CJS

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Language is what we use to communicate effectively and the CJS language is a whole area of vocabulary that is easily recognisable to those who have their ear to the ground when it comes to current affairs. Yet I see many myths floating around about the CJS and the main “offenders” are those who have had little or no direct experience. While the CJS is not a light-hearted subject, here is a light-hearted look at common myths:

Innocent until Proven Guilty

Despite press reports and those who “campaign” avidly for the rights of victims, innocent until proven guilty is still the under-lying basis of the justice system. The right to a fair trial is still in place. No person is convicted (nor should they be) by the public as a result of a tacky and sensational headline. “Questioned” and “arrested” is not indicative of guilt.

“Prison is a hotel/holiday camp”

Really? Have you tried talking to those who have been sentenced to custody? Try talking to prisoner’s families who have to jump through hoops to get into prison to see loved ones and snatched ten-minute phone calls from a person in custody to a worried family. Prison is not a holiday camp and there are many who will happily tell you what it is like who have never stepped foot inside prison gates. Get it from the horses’s mouth instead of reading trashy press. People die in custody. These are people’s children, parents, brother or sister.

Prisoners only serve half their sentence

I tire of explaining this one. There is no such thing as “half a sentence” Each person who has a sentence to serve, serves a full sentence. A sentence that determines a custodial term can in some cases mean that half of the custodial sentence passed, is served in custody. The remaining portion of that sentence is served in the community and a person can be recalled to custody at any time. The sentence is not halved in any way shape of form. No matter what the Daily Mail says.

Suspended sentences are just a slap on the wrist

One of my favourites. This comment used to make my blood turn to lava – however, I have learned to curb my temper. I’ll explain this one nicely. A suspended prison sentence carries just as much weight as a custodial sentence. For example, I was sentenced to 18 weeks custody which was suspended for one year. This means the following:

A) Had the 18 weeks custodial sentence been ordered, I would have served nine weeks, released and the remaining 9 weeks served in the community. The sentence would have been complete in terms of time served after the 18-week period. However, as my sentence was suspended for a year, this means my liberty can be rescinded were I to be placed in front of a court for the smallest, pettiest criminal act. The initial custodial part would be activated and I would be sentenced concurrently for the new offence. Effectively my suspended sentence has been a longer sentence than had I been banged up in a 10×8 for 18 weeks.

b) My suspended sentence is a prison sentence in terms of disclosure for employment purposes.

CRB Checks

These are bizarrely named “certificates” It is not a certificate – it is a piece of paper that is exempt on the day it is printed. The service is called The Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS) and spent convictions (the rehabilitation period is longer than the sentencing period) do not always have to be declared for employment under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. There are exclusions to the ROA 1974, but the ROA is still effective.

Convicted of paedophilia

There is no such thing. It is a myth. No person can be convicted of paedophilia just as a person cannot be convicted of schizophrenia. Sexual offences is the correct term and using the term “paedo” is widely misunderstood. A lazy term for vigilantes to exchange dangerous views fuelled by a poorly regulated press. Paedophilia is not a crime. Committing a sexual offence is.

Just a handful of myths that I see in my day-to-day existence…

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