Labour targets liberals on crime

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The Independent Online
Jack Straw, the Shadow Home Secretary, has accused liberal thinkers among social workers, probation officers and academics of being out of touch with public opinion

The broadside, which will dismay many reformers, is part of a head-on fight to seize the title of party of law and order from the Tories.

Speaking at the University of Salford, Mr Straw argued that many of the "liberal" sections of the criminal justice system are out of touch. "[In] social services, the probation service, and those who provide the intellectual framework for our sentencing system, namely academic researchers, there is too much distance in public understanding."

And rounding on penal reformers, he said he had become impatient with the "moral relativist brigade who argue that there is little point doing anything much about young offenders from deprived areas ... until the underlying cause of their deprivation has been tackled". He said such arguments ignored the fact that the victims of such offenders were "typically, their peers, people in similar, or worse conditions".

In what will be a key theme in the run up to the general election, Mr Straw highlighted the "failure" of the youth justice system and some parents to tackle rising crime among young people. He called for tougher court and police action against young offenders and greater involvement of society.

He attacked the Government's record on youth crime arguing that in the last 10 years the offences that juveniles typically commit have increased by over 40 per cent, while the number of people cautioned or found guilty has decreased by more than a third.

He said: "I see the criminal justice system - especially the youth justice system - still trapped in a secret garden, in which a culture of excuse for the performance of the system,its delays, waste, ineffectiveness, and for the offenders themselves, is too prevalent ...

"Many of the offenders discover too late as they go down the steps to the cells to face a sentence in adult prison that the system has been too weak and ineffective for too long."

As part of a programme of measures against youth crime, to be unveiled next month, Mr Straw called for faster court proceedings for dealing with youth crimes, as well as them being given a set number of chances before reaching the dock. Offenders' parents would also be forced to take greater responsibility and could be given community service sentences along with their off-spring.