Page last updated at 15:04 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

Jail reformers 'forget victims'

Prison doors
Jack Straw says prison reform groups "sometimes forget who the victim is"

Prison reformers must do more to help the victims of crime, Justice Secretary Jack Straw has said.

In a speech to the Royal Society of Arts, Mr Straw said the public expects the justice system to punish people.

He said the prison reform lobby ensures that "we hear loud and clear" about the needs of offenders, but "they sometimes forget who the victim is".

Paul Cavadino of the Nacro charity responded that aiding offenders reduced re-offending, and this helped victims.

'Impenetrable jargon'

Mr Straw said: "When I hear phrases like 'criminogenic needs of offenders' I'm driven mildly nuts.

I profoundly disagree that we should describe someone's amoral desire to go thieving as a 'need' equivalent to that of victims or the law-abiding public
Jack Straw, Justice Secretary

"First it is pretty impenetrable jargon designed to put a barrier between practitioner and public, and second because I profoundly disagree that we should describe someone's amoral desire to go thieving as a 'need' equivalent to that of victims or the law-abiding public."

He said the prison reform lobby was made up of committed and dedicated people, but "they sometimes forget who the victim is, so lost do they become in a fog of platitudes and debate over the 'needs' of the offenders".

Mr Straw added: "We can all do more to support victims, indeed I challenge those of you who rightly work so effectively to keep up the pressure on government over standards in prison to put the victim more at the heart of your work."

'Crystal clear'

He denied seeking a return to "some Victorian notion of crime".

"But it does mean being crystal clear about what the public expect the justice system to do on their behalf - to punish those who have broken the law," he added.

Mr Straw restated his aim of creating 14,000 more prison places by 2014, saying the government would be "failing in its fundamental duty to protect the public" if it did not increase capacity to meet the anticipated pressure on the system.

But he said ministers did not know what the impact of a recession would be on the prison population, saying previous recessions had resulted in different outcomes in terms of crime levels.

Shadow Justice Secretary, Nick Herbert, said the government had failed on both punishment and reform.

"Prisoners who serve less than half of their sentence are not being punished and there is no reform in overcrowded jails where re-offending rates have risen.

"Protesting about the interests of victims and posturing about punishment rings hollow from the minister who has just released over 30,000 prisoners early in a single year and whose failure as home secretary to provide adequate jail capacity continues to disable the criminal justice system today."

Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon said prisons would not be effective while they were "crammed full of people serving short, meaningless sentences for petty crimes".

Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime-reduction charity Nacro, said there was "no contradiction between meeting the needs of offenders and those of victims".

"If we rehabilitate offenders by meeting their needs for education, employment, housing and drug treatment, this reduces the suffering of victims by preventing reoffending," he said.

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