Can you be too fat for prison?

Can you be too fat for prison?

Image from SWNS/The Mirror

On 16 June 2015 we came across the story of Linda Jenns.

Jenns was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. In January 2014, she “jumped” a red light and, driving within the 40mph speed limit, collided with jogger Paul Stinton. Mr Stinton was taken to hospital by Air Ambulance suffering from head, chest, neck and abdominal injuries but sadly died three weeks later.

Jenns was, we understand, due to be sentenced on 15 June 2015 however the judge adjourned sentence for two weeks following a discussion regarding her health.


Jenn had lost between five and six stone and was hoping for a gastric band to be fitted which would have increased her life expectancy quite dramatically. At the time of the collision, she had been receiving treatment for her weight problem and had previously suffered a stroke.

Jenns’ barrister said:

“As it is, she is grossly overweight, morbidly obese and since the incident has put on even more weight…She is a person for whom a prison sentence would be extraordinarily difficult and I don’t think I exaggerate when I say she might not get through it.”

Can you be too fat for prison?

The general principle is that all relevant factors must be taken into account when sentencing, and included within that MAY be the health of a defendant. For example, a 10 year prison sentence will be tougher on a man of 85 than a man of 25. Someone with severe mobility issues is likely to suffer greater than someone who is able bodied. Whether or not such factors warrant a reduction – and if so how much – is a fact-specific question for the judge in each case and there is no hard and fast rule.

The court will consider whether art.3 rights are breached and only where there is medical evidence to the effect that a prison sentence will breach art.3 rights is this in reality likely to be a question of whether a custodial sentence may be imposed.

In most cases, the court makes a reduction to account for the health difficulties of the defendant. In cases involving death, a non-custodial sentence is likely to be seen to fail to reflect the gravity of the offending. Of course, no prison sentence can properly equate to the loss of life.

The sentencing range for causing death by dangerous driving (see p.11) is 2-14 years (and if the news reports are accurate this would appear to be a level one case, as it involved “a deliberate decision to ignore the rules of the road”).

The judge imposed an interim driving disqualification and told Jenns that it was almost certain that she would be sent to custody. That would seem the only possible outcome, on the facts we have at the moment.