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Monday, 1 July, 2002, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Prison wages may go to victims
Prisoners should pay some of the money they earn in jail workshops towards helping crime victims, says a new government report.

Whitehall's Social Exclusion Unit (SEU) also says prisoners leaving jail should at that point get more cash to help stop them reoffending.

For me... it is more and more of what I call the blah-blah-Blair politics

Mark Leech
Reform charity Unlock
Prison reform campaigners have accused the government of backtracking on that plan, part of a new national rehabilitation strategy.

Leaked early drafts of the strategy showed the government intended to give prisoners 100 on release and pay their rent for six months, but those hard figures are missing from the final report.

Barbara Roche, the minister responsible for the SEU, said the recommendations could mean "significant sums" going to groups helping crime victims.

'Going straight contracts'

"Society has a right to expect reparations as part of a sentence," said Ms Roche.

The payments would run alongside new "going straight contracts", setting out what is expected of offenders inside and outside of jail.

Under the proposals, the programme would be piloted on 18 to 20-year-olds.

Suggested solutions
More cash help on release
"Going straight contracts"
Pre-release benefit and job advice
Special rehabilitation packages

A wider "rehabilitation package" would be tailored for individual offenders, offering them help finding benefits, jobs and housing before they leave jail.

Reducing the number of homeless ex-prisoners, who are six times more likely to offend than those with housing, is one of the report's key aims.

Paul Cavadino, from the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said people could not claim benefits until two weeks after their release.

But the amount they currently were given to tide them over was only as much as one week's benefit, he told BBC One's Breakfast programme.

"That greatly increases the chances that people will go back to crime quickly because they have no money," said Mr Cavadino.

Courage call

The SEU has come up with various ideas to combat the so-called "revolving door" syndrome of crime.

The report suggests new moves should be considered so that more inmates can keep their homes while they are in jail.

Mr Cavadino said the measures outlined in the report could make a "real difference".
Reoffending rates
58% of criminals commit more crime within two years
Of young male prisoners, 72% go on to commit more crime in same period
Released prisoners commit 1m crimes every year
Source: Social Exclusion Unit

But the lack of figures on how much extra money could be given to prisoners on release has sparked concern among some campaigners.

Mark Leech, founder of reform charity Unlock, said Labour's 1997 promise to be "tough on the causes of crime" meant nothing without the figures.

"For me, sat here five years later, it is more and more of what I call the blah-blah-Blair politics," Mr Leech told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"If they are going to help ex-offenders... let's have the figures, let's see what we are looking at, let's put the proposals on the table and let's see a government with the courage to deliver."

The government says the proposals will be turned into an action plan backed by investment after the comprehensive spending review later this month.

In a foreword to that action plan, Tony Blair says government needs to "redouble" rehabilitation efforts while still punishing criminals.

Fifty-eight per cent of criminals commit further crimes after conviction, carrying out about one million crimes a year at an estimated 11bn cost to society, says the report.

'Knee-jerk reaction'

Juliet Lyon, director of the Prisons Reform Trust, said the report confirmed that locking more people up was not the answer to dealing with crime.

"The SEU lays down a challenge to government departments... to stop ducking their responsibilities and to play a full part in reducing offending by the people they have failed in the past," said Ms Lyon.

Conservative shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said reoffending would not be stopped by a "brief knee-jerk reaction".

Instead, long-term programmes were needed.

"Getting people out of the cycle of crime will involve far more than just paying their rent," added Mr Letwin.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Our history of preventing re-offending is poor"
Unlock ex-offenders' organisation's Mark Leech
"Prisoners don't have the financial wherewithal to survive"
Home Office minister Barbara Roche
"This is really about reducing reoffending"
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