Rolf Harris was a beloved entertainer who was on our screens for over 50 years and received honours for his work. So, to many it was a shock when he was found guilty of 12 offences of indecent assault involving four victims. He was sentenced to 5 years and 9 months (he will serve half in prison and half on licence under the automatic unconditional release scheme). This sentence could have been much longer under the ‘Sentencing Council Definitive Guidelines’ (maximum 24 years) but the judge considered six mitigating factors and many of the sentences for each count was ordered to run concurrently.
Was Rolf Harris’s sentence reflective of his crimes?
This can be debated… when considering what sentence to impose a judge has to make the decision based on sentencing guidelines and considers both aggravating and mitigating factors. When giving his summary of the case the Judge made reference to the psychological damage caused to the victims, the fact he took advantage of the trust placed in him by one of the victim’s family and the trust his celebrity status gave him. However, when considering mitigating factors the judge referred to Harris’s offences as brief and opportunistic! (planned offences are judged more harshly). One of the victims (a friend of his daughter’s) was groomed and abused over years, so I take exception to this being a “brief and opportunistic offence”. Sex offenders who groom victims plan meticulously what they will do/say in order to carry out their crime. Harris had no previous convictions which is often the main factor when determining an appropriate sentence. Other mitigating factors referred to his good character, his age and health and that of his wife’s. It appears his age (84 at the time of conviction) and health were contributing factors in the lesser sentence awarded. The judge was also restricted as he could only impose the maximum sentence allowed during the period that the crimes were committed.
Do you think his celebrity status influenced the sentence?
It is argued that celebrities and people in positions of power are given harsh sentences as they are used as examples. It doesn’t seem as though this has happened in this case. It appears that despite the judge summing up that Rolf Harris caused severe psychological harm to his victims, the mitigating factors were such to reduce the sentence significantly.
Rolf Harris’s prison experience…
Harris was moved from HMP Bullingdon, a category B/C prison to HMP Stafford, a category C prison with two separate wings for vulnerable inmates. This was due to Harris being targeted by other prisoners. Sex offenders are often targeted in prison, especially when their victims are underage. So it appears his celebrity status did not deter the prisoners. However, he was reportedly given a sought after job as a gardener despite other inmates waiting long periods for such jobs. Was he treated favourable by the prison staff because of who he was? Or was this also more to do with his frail health and age? Whatever the reason this treatment made him even more unpopular with other prisoners. On the contrary though he has been reported to have won some inmates over by signing copies of his drawings for them – won them over or them hoping to make money from these drawings once released?
When in the more relaxed environment of HMP Stafford Rolf Harris wrote a letter to a friend and in the letter he had written lyrics for a song. These lyrics contained offensive remarks against his victims, revealing his lack of remorse. He also made reference to prison being “no hardship really”. Critics of the automatic unconditional release scheme say it removes any incentive to behave well and attend treatment programmes when in prison. It appears true in this case as he had no worries about speaking ill of his victims.
Overall, whether it is his age and health or status he seems to be fairing quite well in prison.