Page last updated at 07:58 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Call to cut 'farcical' jail terms

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith has been promised a social justice role in government

Prison sentences of two months or less should be scrapped and replaced by tougher probation courses, according to Iain Duncan Smith.

Such short terms are "farcical" and do nothing to reform serial offenders, the former Conservative leader is expected to say in a speech on Monday.

The speech echoes a new report by his Centre for Social Justice.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said some of its claims were "unfounded" but he would look at its suggestions.

The report by the Centre for Social Justice, which is headed by Mr Duncan Smith, says courts should be given the power to quickly haul offenders into prison if they breach their probation terms.

It adds that there should be a stronger focus on rehabilitation and better treatment programmes for drug addicts and alcoholics.

'Brave proposal'

Research by the think tank suggests that reoffending costs the country £11bn each year.

Mr Duncan Smith, who has been promised a social justice role in a future Tory government by leader David Cameron, will say very short sentences are "the primary cause of churn and fuel the chaos of overcrowding".

Make Justice Work, a campaign to abolish short-term prison sentences, urged the Tory leadership to take up his call.

Director Roma Hooper said: "In reality we should be aiming to follow Scotland's lead and abolish all sentences of under six months but this is a good start and a brave proposal from a key Tory think tank.

"Prison reform is often seen in zero sum terms but relatively small tweaks such as abolishing short-term prison sentences would have a colossal impact on improving Britain's prisons and tackling the cycle of low-level crime blighting our society."

Mr Straw said he needed to study the report, as "penal policy is too important for knee-jerk reactions".

"A big effort has gone into tough community sentences as alternatives to short term custody - one of the suggestions in the report, and generally these are working well," he said.

"The prison population for women and for under-18s is down, partly as a result."

The two major drivers for the increase in prison numbers were the fact that more serious offenders were being jailed for longer and the increasing number of recall prisoners who had broken their probation order or post-release licence, he added.

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