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2002-09-16 16:03:24
Prison not working

Southport Liberal Democrats look set to back radical plans aimed at halving
the number of people being sent to prison.

The party's national conference will next Tuesday (Sept 24), debate calls for alternative measures to reduce Britain's 72,000 prison population, proportionally by far the highest in Europe.

With more than 70% of young offenders returning to crime despite having served custodial sentences, party bosses claim that prison simply isn't working.

The Liberal Democrats want more 'weekend only' sentences so that offenders can hold down jobs during their term of punishment, and they want victims of crime to be involved in setting demands for reparations or compensation from offenders.

Southport euro-MP Chris Davies said that prison sentences should be imposed only for offences involving violence or when offenders had failed to comply with the terms of alternative sentences.

He said: "If prison works then Britain should have the lowest crime rate in Europe. That's clearly not the case, so we are doing something wrong.

"It costs nearly 40,000 a year to keep someone in prison yet it doesn't do more to deter crime than much cheaper alternatives. Instead of paying people to do nothing in prison we should be developing more community rehabilitation schemes which force offenders to face up to their responsibilities and help equip them to live a life without crime."

Britain's prison population is currently growing by 6,000 a year, a rate which if continued which give the country more than 100,000 prisoners within five years. Some of the most overcrowded prisons are in the North West, with Preston topping the league with 661 prisoners taking 356 places.

More than half of all prisoners serve terms of less than 12 months and Liberal Democrats argue that all too often the sentences do little other than destroy any prospect of offenders getting jobs, making them more likely to commit crimes again.

Having a job is the single most important factor in reducing reconvictions, according to the National Probation Service. Education programmes, aimed at improving literacy and numeracy, have been proven to reduce reconviction rates.

Mr Davies accused the government of being too ready to appeal to populist sentiments by backing harsh punishments while not doing enough to introduce policies that worked.

He said: "Tony Blair promised the country that he would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but his government is doing neither of these things effectively. "

Article submitted by A.Manderson on behalf of Chris Davies MEP
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