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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 August 2005, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Top judge urges prisons rethink
Lord Woolf
Lord Woolf: Wants to cut reoffending
The most senior judge in England and Wales, Lord Woolf, wants more focus put on finding crime-fighting alternatives to sending offenders to prison.

Lord Woolf, shortly to retire as lord chief justice, writes in The Guardian "there is no alternative" to prison for serious and violent crimes.

But for many others prison may not be the best way "to turn people away from a life of crime" and cut reoffending.

Alternatives include offenders making amends to victims and tougher fines.

"We do not want a system that shuts people outside society, once they have left the prison gates," Lord Woolf writes.

He hails the creation of the National Offender Management scheme (Noms), which brings prison and probation services together.

It is estimated reoffending by ex-prisoners costs the UK 11bn each year, and that 58% of inmates are reconvicted within two years of being released, he says.

"All of us working within the system must aim to do much better than that," Lord Woolf adds.

In his article, responding to a Guardian series on the criminal justice system, he says a major challenge is to convince the public "that non-custodial sentences do provide a satisfactory punishment to offenders and that they can play a key role in diverting offenders from returning to the pathways of crime".

He adds: "We need wider understanding and acceptance that the principles of sentencing are not just founded on punishing offenders... but about reducing crime, reforming and rehabilitating offenders and making them make reparation to the victims of their crime."

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