Probation union NAPO has spoken out against the short sentences handed down to stalkers, claiming that they allow no time for rehabilitation and treatment. Although some violent stalkers are handed down sentences of more than 12 months, many are given just a few days behind bars or are sentenced with community orders.
120,000 people in the UK are subject to behaviour which could be seen as stalking each year. However only half of those will make a complaint to police and of those only one in 50 will lead to an offender being jailed, said the union.
"It is abundantly clear that if the criminal justice system does not intervene early to prevent stalking behaviour, then that behaviour escalates to violence and even murder. There is virtually no training for any criminal justice professional in understanding stalking and therefore it is no surprise that the response is so inadequate," said Harry Fletcher, the union's assistant general secretary.
Now NAPO is calling for a change in the law to tackle the issue of stalking earlier. Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper has committed the Labour Party to reviewing the law, saying that a lack of clarity is allowing stalking cases to escalate into more heinous crimes. In 2009/10 only one in 50 cases of offenders charged under the Protection of Harassment Act 1997 received a jail sentence.
"There is an urgent need for a stalking law and for the offence of harassment to be tried not just in the magistrates' but in the crown courts. If professionals were trained and intervened early this would save lives, save money and save victim misery," added Mr Fletcher.
David Cameron has previously suggested that the Government would consider a new law for stalking, and last month the Home Office launched a three-month consultation after victims complained of feeling 'let down' by the justice system. The consultation ends on 5th February 2012.