British plan for U-turn on prisons policy

20:16, December 08, 2010      

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The British government announced plans on Tuesday to cut the number of prison places, and to make sentences carried out in the community more robust, in a bid to improve the re-offending rate among criminals and to save money against a background of large budget cuts.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, who was in charge of prisons as home secretary during the 1990s, launched the green paper, entitled "Breaking the cycle: effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders".

He said "Despite record spending we are not delivering what really matters. Society has a right to expect the criminal justice system will protect them. Prison will always be the place for serious and dangerous offenders.

"Prisons should also be places of hard work and industry and community sentences must be credible and robust. Criminals must also be reformed so that when they finish their sentences they do not simply return to crime, creating more misery for victims. Solving these problems requires a radically different approach."

Clarke said the green paper was an important change of direction in penal policy which will put "more emphasis on reducing re-offending without reducing the punishment of offenders. "

England and Wales have the second-highest prison population in per capita terms in western Europe, with 149 prisoners for every 100,000 people. The EU average is 102 per 100,000.

The green paper outlines plans to cut the prison population by 3,000 over the next four years, from its current 85,000 total.

Clarke's plan is to put the thousands of criminals, who are currently likely to receive prison sentences, who suffer with drug and alcohol or mental health problems to serve their punishments on community-based programs.

Clarke also aims to get prison numbers down by offering a 50 percent reduction in sentences for people who plead guilty at an early stage, and he also planned to no longer imprison people for technical breaches of parole conditions, like failing to live at a designated address or ignoring a night-time curfew.

Other green paper proposals include, making offenders work hard and at regular working hours while in prison, more demanding tasks in community sentences, and greater use of tough curfew requirements.

Victims of crime could also expect to get more compensation.

Clarke also planned to offer incentives to private organizations involved in the criminal-justice system if they reduced re-offending by criminals they were handling.

The paper also contained proposals to simplify sentencing and to increase transparency so that local communities would more easily be able to hold services to account.

Source: Xinhua


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