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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 11:51 GMT
New plans to 'manage' offenders

The Queen's Speech includes a new bill designed to improve the way criminals are sentenced, and then handled after their release from prison. What is likely to be in the Offender Management Bill?

Footage from Panorama
The issue was highlighted recently by Panorama's exposť of bail hostels

The handling of criminals, and especially predatory paedophiles, has been a major cause of public concern for the last decade.

The murder of Sara Payne sparked an unsuccessful campaign for laws - similar to those in the United States - which allow communities to know exactly where convicted paedophiles are living.

The Home Secretary, John Reid, has resisted the clamour for such draconian legislation, on the grounds that it would be counter-productive because it would drive freed sex offenders underground and mean they disappeared from the radar of police and social services.

But several recent cases have persuaded Mr Reid that more needs to be done to tighten up the system as far as sentencing and releasing prisoners.

In June this year Craig Sweeney was jailed for life for abducting a three-year-old girl from her home in Cardiff, sexually abusing her and driving her to Wiltshire.

Sweeney had been living in a halfway home for former prisoners after being released early from a three-year sentence for indecently assaulting another child.

Craig Sweeney
The Craig Sweeney case highlighted the danger posed by freed sex offenders

There has also been criticism of the way the system handled Damien Hanson, a robber who murdered wealthy banker John Monckton after the Parole Board decided to release him early from prison into the care of the Probation Service.

Mr Reid said the Offender Management Bill would reduce re-offending and better protect the public from dangerous criminals.

The Bill also opens the way to the part-privatisation of the probation system.

It will mean that the Probation Service would have to compete with private sector firms and voluntary organisations.

The Home Office has already confirmed it will contract out about one third of the service's £800m budget within 18 months.

Mr Reid said: "This would raise standards, encourage partnership and support innovation. The focus will be on what is required to reduce re-offending rates, and to meet local needs and commissioners of services will consult widely to establish what these are."

'Madhouse politics'

But Martin Wargent, of the Probation Boards' Association, last week accused the home secretary of perpetrating a "sleight of hand" by linking private sector contracting out, which would be opposed, and voluntary involvement, which many professionals had called for.

Damien Hanson
Damien Hanson killed a man after being released early

He said: "It will in effect privatise the Probation Service, whole probation areas, which is the politics of the madhouse."

The Bill also plans to tackle the smuggling of drugs and other articles into prison by increasing punishments.

In July Mr Reid said he wanted to introduce body scanners to detect smuggled mobile telephones which may be used by gangsters to run their criminal businesses from inside.

It will also amend the youth justice system.




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