Howard plans to bring back `three strikes' sentences

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The Independent Online
CRIMINALS CONVICTED three times will face a compulsory prison term under the Conservatives, Michael Howard is to announce today.

The "three strikes and you're out" plan will be outlined in a speech on crime, in which the Tory leader will also call for mandatory minimum sentences. In a sign that the Tories want to make crime an important battleground at the general election, he will say that that current sentencing policy, where criminals sometimes serve only half of their sentence, is "a lie". He will call for a return to what he terms "honesty in sentencing".

"Everyone knows that prisoners rarely, if ever, serve the sentences that are handed out by the judges," he will say. "Criminals sentenced to less than four years are automatically out after serving just half their sentences. Nothing does more to undermine confidence in our criminal justice system."

The "three strikes and you're out" system of sentencing was brought in when Mr Howard was Home Secretary but was amended by Labour.

Under a Conservative government, judges would be asked to set minimum and maximum sentences and to scrap the early release scheme. Minimum sentences would be served in full, but prisoners who misbehaved would have to serve a longer "maximum sentence."

He will also signal that he is prepared to build more prisons. "Persistent and dangerous criminals should be sent to prison. The public needs protection from them." he said. "Build more prisons and fewer criminals will be free to commit crime. It's common sense."

But the policy is expected to be sharply criticised by prison reformers who have warned that UK prisons are chronically overcrowded and are full of people serving short sentences for non-violent crimes.

The Conservatives are expected to withdraw backing for the Government's identity card scheme this week, despite backing the proposals in a Commons vote in December.

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