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banner Monday, 2 October, 2000, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Does prison work? 'Yes'
Ann Widdecombe - undisputedly a conviction politician - answered the question posed on law and order by the Howard League for Penal Reform with characteristic speed.

Speaking on the Tory party conference fringe, the shadow home secretary said simply "Yes" to the question 'Does prison work?'

"Of course it does," she continued speaking in a packed hotel function room in sunny Bournemouth.

"When people are locked up they can't commit any further crime," she said.

By taking the persistent offenders off the streets the one-time Home Office minister said a significant dint could be made in the crime figures.

But enough of incarceration. Miss Widdecombe quickly changed tack.

"Prison does not do anything like as much as it should to prevent crime.

"It only defers crime, it does not solve it."

Rehabilitating offenders was not, she said some "wet liberal extra, it is necessary."

"If people spend any length of time in prison they should not leave without being able to read and write."

Self financing prison workshops were the way forward, she said.

Something had to be done, said Miss Widdecombe, to change a situation where prisoners were set to work to produce 1.4m pairs of socks for a prison population of 67,000 people.

Speaking for the National Association of Prison Officers, Harry Fletcher said that if model prisons run to rehabilitate prisoners and reduce re-offending could be shown to work then they should be taken up nationwide.

But he said that the present size of the prison population made him "pessimistic" that the system could be made to work in such a way.

Speaking for the Howard League itself was David Faulkner.

Although welcoming Miss Widdecombe's words, he said he had heard similar speeches made by ministers and prison officials for the last 40 years.

He then attempted to answer the question his organisation had posed.

"Tackling crime requires so much more than incarceration."

Policies should be framed within a sound respect for human rights and framed on "evidence and experience" and not constructed by following populist cries for action, he said.

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