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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 December 2006, 23:55 GMT
Crime fight 'needs fresh ideas'
Police tape
The report also criticises police performances
New ways of tackling crime must be considered, a minister has said, after a report warned crime rates could rise for the first time in 12 years.

The leaked Downing Street strategy unit report says crime could rise if there is a slowdown in economic growth

It says prescribing heroin and alcohol rationing could help cut crime.

Labour chairman Hazel Blears said new ideas were "worth exploring" but shadow home secretary David Davis said more prison places were what was needed.

The 60-page report, obtained by the Sunday Times, also criticises police for failing to improve their performance despite large budget increases.

The report, called Policy Review: Crime, Justice and Cohesion, warns that for the first time since the 1990s, when crime rates began to fall steadily, the number of offences are predicted to start rising because of changing economic conditions.

'Meeting challenges'

Its other findings include that prisoners numbers are rising beyond capacity, there is no money for new prisons and that nine out of 10 crimes are either not reported or go unpunished.

There's got to be much more emphasis on prison education
Lib Dem Vincent Cable

Ms Blears told the BBC that the document looked at "tough issues" and "new challenges" and was intended to help the government plan for the future.

"One of the specific papers that's been commissioned as a result of this report is to look at early intervention - how do you get to those families who are the most difficult, looking at immigration and crime - and we're not afraid to talk about that."

The strategy unit says the government could learn from other countries, such as prescribing heroin to addicts to help cut robberies, or trying hormone injections or "chemical castration" for sex offenders.

Ms Blears added that any UK government hoping to be in office for a long time should be constantly seeking to renew its policies and "look at fresh ideas".

"And above all be on the side of the public of this country who want us and rightly expect us to be really thinking hard about the world which is now changing faster than any of us would have contemplated," she said.

'Failing' prisons

According to the Sunday Times, the report predicts prison numbers could increase by 25% to 100,000 within five years.

Mr Davis told BBC News 24: "We've been saying you need 100,000 prison places... for the last three years and the Home Office has been rigorously denying it at every turn.

"It now turns out that the government's view is that we are right."

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman Vincent Cable said: "There's got to be much more emphasis on prison education. Many of the people who come out aren't literate, they can't hold down a job."

The report also points to "an increasing wealth gap" and says "the very poorest have got poorer since 1997".

The head of the Probation Officers Association, Harry Fletcher, said a fresh approach to drugs could reduce crime.

"If the government decided to look at whether drugs could be available on the National Health Service... it would also cut off the supply line of money to the millionaires who are currently making so much cash out of the misery it causes," he said.




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