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Cameron sets out prison plans after Mitchell fiasco


David Cameron will today seek to steady Conservative nerves by promising a "tough but intelligent" approach to criminal justice as he tries to repair the damage caused by the Andrew Mitchell affair.

Although Labour last night accused Mr Cameron of pandering to right-wing Tory MPs, the Prime Minister will present his new crime strategy as balanced and fair.

In his first major speech on the issue since becoming Prime Minister, he will say that criminals must face "retribution" but will also announce that all except the most high-risk prisoners will be offered rehabilitation by the end of 2015.

At present, the programme applies only to those who have been jailed for a year or more. Companies, charities and voluntary groups will play a much bigger role, and will be paid by results on whether criminals re-offend.

Mr Cameron's announcement comes as he was given a warning by Tory MPs to raise his game to prevent mistakes. There is dismay in Tory circles that he allowed Mr Mitchell to remain as Government Chief Whip for a month after he swore at police officers guarding the Downing Street gates, only for him resign last Friday.

Andrew Percy, Tory MP for Brigg and Goole, said he was "staggered" the Mitchell affair had dragged on so long. "A lot of the problems we are facing at the moment are not problems about the economy but actually it's stuff we have made ourselves," he told BBC Radio 4.

Speaking in London today, the Prime Minister, below, will steer a middle course on crime and justice. He will say in London today: "Retribution is not a dirty word, it is important to society that revulsion against crime is properly recognised. But punishment is what offenders both deserve and need, too. To treat criminals as victims – to say they had no choice – is to treat them like children."

He will pledge: "I'm not going to try and out-bid any other politician on toughness, saying 'let's just bang them up for longer, let's have more isolation, and once they're out they're on their own.' I say: let's use that time we've got these people inside to have a proper positive impact on them, for all our sakes."

Cameron said in 2006: "Too often, the debate is about short-term solutions: ASBOs, curfews and criminal justice. Of course, we need these things ... But my aim is a society where we need them less and less."