Howard owns up to the need for new prisons

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The Independent Online

More jails will have to be built to cope with the rise in the prison population caused by the Government's plan for tougher sentences for criminals, the Home Secretary said yesterday.

Michael Howard admitted his proposals for longer jail terms for persistent burglars and drugs dealers would mean an increase in the numbers being held in Britain's prisons.

"It may well be that we will have to build more prisons," he told BBC television's Breakfast with Frost programme.

"If we are to have minimum mandatory sentences for persistent burglars and for traffickers in hard drugs then we will need an increase in prison accommodation."

He said the Government had yet to establish just how many new jail places would be needed. "That depends on the details which have not yet been announced, but they will be soon."

The details will be disclosed in a White Paper later this year which will set out the expected increase in prison accommodation.

There are currently plans in the pipeline to build three new local jails, which would all be privately run.

Mr Howard again defended his proposals for mandatory life sentences for serious violent and sexual offenders who re-offend, which were condemned last week by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, as unworkable.

He said that at present, where judges had the option of passing a life sentence, they only did so in 10 per cent of cases.

The Government may also tighten conspiracy laws in Britain, enabling it to clamp down on supporters of Islamic terrorists such as the Palestinian group Hamas which carried out the recent suicide bombings in Israel. Although there is no evidence that attacks have been planned from Britain, the Government has been under pressure from the Israelis to curb the activities of sympathisers.

Last week, the Israelis claimed that Britain had become a "focal point" for Hamas fund-raising, most of it disguised as being for charity. It is believed surveillance has been increased on known activists and last week the Charity Commissioners froze the assets of the Palestinian charity Interpal.