"If you treat people like animals, they will respond like animals," said Dr George Carey as he joined the growing ranks of judges, police and lawyers calling into question a justice system which puts jail and "austere" punishment at its core.
The attack led him straight into a furious row, with Tory MPs demanding his removal from office if he continued to talk "this dangerous twaddle".
They were led by David Evans, a senior member of the influential executive of the Tory 1922 Committee, who said Dr Carey "has not a glimmer of an idea of what people who suffer from crime think about these matters". Ann Winterton, Tory MP for Congleton, said he had given "only a one-sided and unbalanced view". The Home Office minister, Ann Widde- combe, said the archbishop had made an important contribution to the debate. But she criticised him for suggesting there were too many people in prison. "Prison protects the public by taking people out of circulation and gives us a chance to rehabilitate them," she said.
Dr Carey's speech to the Prison Reform Trust will embarrass the Home Secretary, forcing him to justify spending of billions of pounds on new jails.
The speech comes day after Conservative and Labour MPs attacked Mr Howard for eroding the Prison Ombudsman's powers, reducing him to a "complaints investigator who does as much as the Home Office allows him to do".
Dr Carey was speaking as the prison population continued its advance to record levels. Last night it stood at 54,334.
This was the second assault in a year on the Government's penal policy by Dr Carey who adopted the theme of Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, in attacking the new sentencing proposals - saying that long terms did not deter criminals, fear of being caught did.
"Penal policy is weighted far too heavily in favour of imprisonment, to the detriment of those forms of correction, which I firmly believe offer more hope in the long term," Dr Carey said.
He was concerned about the number of unconvicted prisoners held on remand who are ultimately acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence. They often lose jobs, homes or families. He was concerned also at the use of imprisonment to punish women and young people for minor offences.
Dr Carey's message was: "If you treat people with respect and justice, they are more likely to behave in a way which is more respectful of themselves and others and open themselves to the possibility of law-abiding values.
"If you harass and humiliate them, they will store up destructive anger which is to nobody's benefit."Reuse content