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Last Updated: Monday, 15 November, 2004, 13:32 GMT
Kennedy 'tough liberal' on crime
Charles Kennedy
Mr Kennedy accuses critics of spreading myths about his policy
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is hitting back at claims his party's belief in rehabilitation means it is soft on crime.

Setting out his vision of "tough liberalism" in a speech on Monday, Mr Kennedy will accuse Labour of spreading myths about his party's policies.

Mr Kennedy said he wants anti-social behaviour orders modified to tackle the causes of the behaviour.

He said early release could be a reward for prisoners taking education courses.

'Stoking anger'

During the recent Hartlepool by-election, Labour Party leaflets lampooned the Liberal Democrats as "soft on crime, soft on yobs and soft on drugs".

Mr Kennedy is using his speech at the National Liberal Club to try to debunk what he says are myths about his party's law and order stance.

He will say: "The government has been tough on rhetoric, but weak on solutions.

Let's get prisoners out of their cells and into the prison classrooms and workshops
Charles Kennedy
Liberal Democrat

"Its approach is piecemeal, knee-jerk, headline chasing, focusing on the symptoms - the criminals - at the expense of sound policies aimed at tackling the disease - crime itself."

He says stoking public anger and using gimmicks only deflects genuine debate.

"The real, effective solutions to crime are liberal solutions - punishment and rehabilitation," he will continue.

"But action to tackle re-offending, or to guide those headed for a life of crime into lawful productive lives, is certainly not a soft option, in fact it is not an option at all.

"It is essential if we are going to reduce crime. That is tough liberalism."

Causes of crime

The Lib Dems have been lukewarm to the government's anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos), although they did not oppose their introduction.

Mr Kennedy is saying the orders have given short-term relief to communities suffering nuisance behaviour.

But he warns that the problem will either be pushed behind closed doors or shunted from one community to another unless there is a strategy to change offenders' behaviour.

The Lib Dems are now suggesting "Asbo Plus", meaning the orders would only be used in conjunction with action against the underlying causes of the problem.

Mr Kennedy explained it could involve youth workers trying to change attitudes, social workers encouraging families to pull together or education for those excluded from school or unemployed.

Prison lessons

He is also attacking the over-crowding of British prisons, saying suicide rates are at record levels and 59% of those jailed reoffend.

More than half of prisoners have the skills of an 11-year-old in reading and four-fifths can only reach the same level in writing, he says.

"Let's get them out of their cells and into the prison classrooms and workshops," he is saying.

"Indeed we could link such a regime to early-release schemes as a practical incentive to learn.

"It is certainly likely to have a greater dividend in the long term than simply reserving a cell for when they return."

Mr Kennedy is also using the speech to highlight Lib Dem plans for community justice panels.

Offenders arrested for minor crimes such as graffiti or vandalism would get a choice of going to court and getting a criminal record or going before a panel of local people.

They would have to apologise for their actions and agree to work or other reparation for the damage they have caused.

Insisting the idea is not a "soft option", Mr Kennedy says it would give the public an unprecedented say in how local crime problems are tackled.

How Charles Kennedy wants to tackle crime

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