Straw criticises probation staff

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Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, yesterday told probation officers not to side with criminals, in a speech which implied that public safety was not the first priority of some officers. His remarks were immediately rebutted by probation staff leaders.

The attack on the Probation Service is seen as part of a strategy to toughen up community sentences and ensure they are not seen by the public as a soft option. With a rising prison population Mr Straw is expected to turn to community punishments.

In his first formal speech to probation staff he told a conference in Essex: "There should be no question of your taking the side of the offender against the community. The probation service should not be following an agenda which is separate from that of the communities which you serve."

He added: "The Probation Service's priority is protecting the public. There can be no fudging of that."