Labour attacks 'bizarre mix'

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Home Secretary Michael Howard's latest anti-crime package was widely condemned by the opposition and virtually all in the criminal justice system, including judges, lawyers and prison staff.

Jack Straw, shadow home secretary said Mr Howard's speech was "a bizarre mixture" of complacency and desperation. "He was complacent about the level of recorded crime, which has more than doubled under the Tories, and desperate because he knows that the Tories are no longer trusted on law and order."

Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman said Mr Howard's proposals were "merely window-dressing" for the party faithful. Echoing Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, he condemned the Government over the high level of crime that was not being cleared up. "There was not a word about providing more police officers to tackle crime and catch criminals," Mr Beith protested.

The main criticism was the inherent danger is taking away judges powers to fix sentences - thereby denying them the ability to hand out different punishments to reflect the differing severity of a crime. But the second was that the uncosted plans would lead to a massive leap in the prison population which, at over 52,000 - the highest in Europe, is already bursting at the seams.

The end of remission was likely to lead to an increase of 15,000 on a daily basis, the clampdown on burglars could lead to a further 5,000.

Research has shown that locking up so many extra people would only lead to less than a two-per-cent drop in crime - but the costs of building and running the new jails would run into billions.

Prison staff were fearful that the ending of remission would mean there was no incentive for prisoners to behave. Coupled to problems of overcrowding, it could provide the explosive mix which lead to the riots at Strangeways.