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Thursday, 3 May, 2001, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
Crackdown on repeat offenders
Home Secretary Jack Straw
Jack Straw plans to give courts a new role in monitoring sentences
Career criminals who persistently offend are to face tougher sentences, Home Secretary Jack Straw has pledged.

Mr Straw said it "was simply not good enough" that repeat offenders with 10 or more convictions still had a one in three chance of a community sentence.

If they can't rehabilitate offenders everyone will suffer

Paul Cavadino, NACRO
He said research suggested a hardcore of 100,000 offenders were responsible for half of all crime.

It is thought that new powers allowing courts to impose harsher penalties each time a persistent offender is convicted are likely to become part of the Labour manifesto.

Mr Straw also acknowledged that one problem inherent in the system was that short-sentence prisoners were released without formal supervision or support.

"Every year we release over 40,000 of them back into the community with no formal follow up supervision or support at all.

"[They have] no job or any realistic chance of one.

"Often no home or stable family ties, and everywhere the temptation to go back to their old life of drug abuse and crime," Mr Straw said.

New sentence

He then went on to outline a new sentence which will combine short jail terms of less than 12 months with supervision in the community for habitual offenders.

Mr Straw also plans to give courts a new role in managing and monitoring sentences.

His speech comes ahead of a government announcement next week of a sentencing review.

Offenders who fail to comply could face extended periods in custody, and sentences will be followed by more rigorous post-release supervision.

Courts meanwhile will have a more active part to play in managing and monitoring sentences.

'Easy option'

Paul Cavadino, of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said it was sensible for the Probation Service to supervise offenders who had completed a short prison term.

However he said he was concerned that courts would use this new sentence of prison plus community service as an "easy option" for borderline cases.

He was anxious that sending people to prison for short periods did not offer the public much protection against reoffending.

"When people go to jail they lose their homes and jobs," he said.

"If they come out jobless and homeless they are much more likely to reoffend".

Prison population

Mr Cavadino is also concerned that a policy of harsher sentences for persistent offenders runs the risk of increasing the pressure on prisons by swelling prisoner numbers, and making it more difficult for the prison authorities to rehabilitate offenders.

"If they can't rehabilitate offenders because they are more overstretched that means more crime on release and everyone will suffer," he said.

Mr Straw outlined his plans in a speech on Thursday at the Justice Clerk's Society's annual conference in Eastbourne.

Last year he pledged to shut the "revolving door" that allowed criminals to repeatedly offend and said that flexible jail sentencing to remove people from the community could break a cycle of offending.

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26 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Crime crackdown comes under fire
26 Feb 01 | UK Politics
10-year crime plan: At a glance
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