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Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 17:31 GMT
Prison population to carry on rising
In Europe only Portugal jails more per head than UK
The prison population in England and Wales will continue to rise for the "foreseeable future", Home Secretary Jack Straw has said.

Mr Straw said as long as criminals were committing serious crime it was his job to provide extra prison places and not impose artificial limits on the numbers of those in jail.

Instead of taking a fatalistic approach to the rising prison population, the government should take a lead in urging courts to reduce this country's overuse of prison

Paul Cavadino of Nacro
He was speaking in Chorley, Lancashire, where he was viewing a pioneering scheme to deter burglars by making pensioners' homes more secure.

The prison population has increased by 25,000 over the last 10 years to its present level of 65,000, Mr Straw said.

During his three years in office the increase has been 6,000, making the numbers of those in jail per head of population the second highest in Europe, behind only Portugal.

The average length of sentences was rising and the proportion of offenders being sent into custody has increased significantly.

"We are making provision for more prison places," Mr Straw said.

"Prison is the answer for people committing crimes who have not got the message.

Jack Straw
The jail population has gone up by 6,000 under Jack Straw
"If we can divert people before they get into prison so much the better.

"But the forecasts suggest the prison population is likely to go on rising for the foreseeable future. It is inevitable it will rise until the country really has got on top of crime.

"I keep saying that as long as we have criminals committing serious crime we have got to have the prison places for them."

Criticism of Mr Straw came from the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Nacro).

Policy director Paul Cavadino said: "Instead of taking a fatalistic approach to the rising prison population, the government should take a lead in urging courts to reduce this country's overuse of prison.

"If the money we waste on locking up so many non-violent offenders was used to finance more intensive probation programmes and prevention schemes, it would do far more to cut crime."

'Policy shift'

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe said: "I welcome Jack Straw's shift on this issue and his greater sense of reality.

"But I would be even more pleased if he were to stop releasing people early on electronic tags, who then go on to commit further serious offences, including rape."

Mr Straw praised the initiative he viewed in Chorley, where the police, local authority and Neighbourhood Watch have joined together in a 94,000 scheme to strengthen dozens of homes against burglars.

He visited the home of 85-year-old grandmother Ethel Morris, who was a burglary victim nine months ago, before her doors and windows were strengthened under the scheme.

"Burglary is coming down but it is still too high across the country," said Mr Straw.

"Police have a responsibility for the levels of crime but in fact we all have a responsibility to make our area safe and do something about it."

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