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Page last updated at 08:53 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009
Jacqui Smith answers your questions

By Dave Howard
Newsbeat reporter

Why is it illegal to smoke cannabis? Why aren't the courts tougher on criminals? What help can you get if you've come out of prison and you can't get a job?

These are just some of the questions asked by Newsbeat and 1Xtra listeners, when they went to the Houses of Parliament to meet one of the UK's most important and influential politicians, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

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Home Secretary interview

ADAM RICHARDSON, 27, a mechanic from Bury St Edmunds
Adam Richardson
Adam can't understand why cannabis is being reclassified

Adam wanted to ask Jacqui Smith why cannabis is illegal, because he thinks it is less harmful than alcohol.

However, the Home Secretary refused to say which of the two substances she thought was more dangerous.

"As much as people sometimes want a one-word answer, actually it's more complicated than that," she explained.

Adam told her he knows from personal experience that alcohol is worse.

"I've been in trouble for getting in a fight when I was drunk," he said. "If I'd had a smoke, I would have avoided it. I've seen so many people become aggressive on alcohol."

Jacqui Smith replied, "I'm just not convinced that the answer, if someone gets into a drunken fight, is to give them some other harmful substance instead. Perhaps the answer is, 'Don't drink so much, and don't get into the fight in the first place'".

JODIE, a 22-year-old mum from Crawley
Jodie
As a mother Jodie worries about the future for her kids

Jodie explained to the Home Secretary that she's frightened, because her younger brother goes out on the streets at night with a knife in his pocket.

She said he carries a blade to protect himself.

"Why should he walk along a street, not knowing whether the five men that are walking towards him - whether one of them's got a knife?" she asked.

Jacqui Smith told her that for knife-carriers, "the evidence is you're more likely to have that knife used against yourself".

JAMES KENNEDY, 28, a highways worker from Leicester
James Kennedy
James and his family are concerned about crime

James says he knows a teenager who repeatedly breaks the law, and is "constantly in and out of court".

He told Jacqui Smith that punishments are too lenient, which just encourages him to re-offend.

"He keeps getting off, again and again," he said. "So what message is that giving him?"

The Home Secretary told James a lot of the responsibility might lie within the family.

She said: "Parents are really crucial in this. I don't think someone gets to 15 and goes off the rails without there being signs earlier".

She added that parents should "do things like make sure they know their kids are going to school, and know where their kids are".

ADRIAN LUKE, 25, from Bedford
Adrian Luke
Adrian wants more help available for ex-offenders

Adrian told the Home Secretary that he needs to get a job or he risks going back to his old life of selling crack cocaine on the streets.

He says he's spent 18 months in prison, and now he wants to stay straight.

But he told the Home Secretary: "I need to support myself and my kids and my family. I'm very tempted to go back to doing what I was doing before".

"I'm sympathetic to you, Adrian," Jacqui Smith told him, "because it sounds like you're really trying hard.

"You've made the right decision to not go back into prison and to try and find a job. We'll do what we can to help you to do that."

BECKY MILES, 25, from Solihull
Becky Miles
Becky is worried about going out at night in Birmingham

Becky likes to go out with friends in Birmingham.

But she says one of the city's main going-out areas, Broad Street, has become a no-go area, particularly at night.

"I now don't go out as often as I used to," she said. "There is knife crime, there's been gun crime down there. It's not all alcohol-fueled either."

Jacqui Smith told her, "That's why we're putting a particular focus on the way women feel about being able to walk the streets in the evening".

"What I'm trying to do is get more statistics on what's happening in areas," she added. "I want people to have the best information about the sort of areas they're going to, so they can have more confidence."

A VERDICT ON OUR HOME SECRETARY?

The five Newsbeat and 1Xtra listeners spent more than 40 minutes grilling Jacqui Smith.

Afterwards, most of them said they were a little disappointed by the way she dealt with their concerns.

"I expected a text-book answer," said James, "and that's exactly what I got. She treated us as if our opinions didn't count."

Adam said: "She didn't give a straight answer. She isn't someone I'd go for a drink down the pub with".

Young mum Jodie was also frustrated, saying, "She just sat there gabbing on. By the time she'd finished, you'd forgot what she said because it wasn't directed at the questions that were asked".

Adrian thought the Home Secretary could have answered questions better, but he added, "on the whole, I think she's a nice person".



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