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Last Updated: Monday, 24 January, 2005, 10:31 GMT
Focus call on poverty crime link
Roger Houchin
Roger Houchin wants to address the link between poverty and crime
A former Scottish prison governor has called for a reduction in the number of criminal offences punishable by jail.

Roger Houchin, who used to run Barlinnie in Glasgow, wants a radical rethink of the justice system to break the link between poverty and prison.

He has carried out a study which found that a significant proportion of prisoners came from some of the most deprived communities.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said that poverty was no excuse for crime.

Mr Houchin, now based at Glasgow Caledonian University's School of Life Sciences, carried out the study in June 2003.

He looked at how many people had been sent to jail from each of Scotland's 1,200 local authority wards.

'Sustain offending'

Speaking to BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Houchin called for Scottish Executive policies on crime and poverty to be more focused.

He said: "The criminal justice plan that Cathy Jamieson published in December needs to be looked at more carefully in terms of how far the response we are making is addressing problems which lead to offending.

"We should not continue to focus as heavily as we do on punishing people guilty of smaller crimes. We know from evidence that the more we focus on punishment, we only sustain the levels of offending we have."

There has always been a link between deprivation and crime, but we need to be very careful and recognise it is a very complex issue
Pauline McNeill
Labour MSP

Mr Houchin added that the plan should be linked to an anti-poverty campaign for Scotland.

However, Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, who chairs one of the Scottish Parliament's justice two committees, told BBC Radio Scotland that the whole issue was complex.

She said: "The criminal justice plan does acknowledge the link with poverty and also unemployment.

"It also stresses the importance of ensuring that skills are an issue we need to address to get people into work.

"There has always been a link between deprivation and crime, but we need to be very careful and recognise it is a very complex issue.

"We have many poorer communities where the vast majority of people don't commit crime at all."

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